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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.49 n.3 Pretoria  2009


Johannes Calvyn (1509-1564) se visie op die werklikheid: 'n Christelik-filosofiese waardering


The worldview of John Calvin (1509-1564): A Christian-philosophical appraisal



BJ van der Walt

Skool vir Filosofie, Noordwes-Universiteit, Potchefstroom, Epos:




Om die geboorte van die Reformator van Genève, 500 jaar gelede, te herdenk word hierdie Christelik-filosofiese waardering van sy lewensvisie (volgens die finale uitgawe van sy Institusie van 1559) aangebied. Die ondersoek ontwikkel soos volg: (1) Die inleiding verduidelik die onderwerp en aard van hierdie ondersoek asook die metode waarvolgens dit gedoen word. (2) In die tweede afdeling word aangetoon dat die pogings om na 'n sentrale, leidende gedagte by Calvyn te soek nie geslaag het nie en ook te eng is. Die breëre aanpak van 'n Christelik-filosofiese analise hou meer belofte in om Calvyn se lewensvisie te verstaan. (3) Die derde afdeling ondersoek en evalueer Calvyn se ontologie (sy visie op God, sy wette en sy skepping) en gee ook sy mensbeskouing kortliks weer. (4) Vervolgens word ondersoek wat die implikasies van sy digotomistiese mensvisie en sy onderskeid tussen twee ryke ('n hemelse en aardse) is vir sy visie op die samelewing. (5) Hierna word Calvyn se kenteorie en sy visie op die verhouding tussen geloof en wete, teologie en filosofie ondersoek. (6) In 'n afsluitende gedeelte sal die resultate kortliks saamgevat word.

Trefwoorde: Reformasie (16e eeu), Johannes Calvyn (1509-1564), Institusie van die Christelike godsdiens (1559), teologie, werklikheidsvisie (ontologie), dualisme, Godsidee, skeppingsordeninge, natuurwet, parsiële universalisme, makro-mikrokosmosteorie, digotomie (antropologiese), semi-mistiek, tweeterreineleer (natuur en genade), inkonsekwente empirisme, outonomie (van die rede), geloof en wete (hulle verhouding), Platonisme, Stoïsisme


This Christian philosophical investigation of his worldview according to the final edition of his Institutes (1559) is presented in commemoration of the birth of the Reformer of Geneva 500 years ago. The essay develops through the following stages.
The introductory part firstly settles the debate on whether Calvin was primarily a Christian theologian or a philosopher. Calvin himself called his Institutes a "Christian philosophy" (philosophia Christiana) which, in contemporary terminology could be described as a (pre-scientific) Christian worldview. Secondly, the introduction indicates the method according to which Calvin's worldview will be analysed. It is done according to the only existing Christian philosophical historiographical method, viz. the problem-historical method, developed by the Dutch philosopher, prof. D.H.Th. Vollenhoven (2005a & 2005b) and afterwards further explained by his followers (cf. Bril, 2005 and Bril & Boonstra, 2000).
The first main section indicates the failures of different efforts (mainly by theologians) to find a central idea governing Calvin's "system". Calvin research provides enough evidence today that there is no single "key" to unlock the door to Calvin's thinking. Not only one central dogma or principle, but many "keys" or biblical themes can be regarded as cornerstones of his so-called theology. This fact underlines the need for a broader Christian philosophical approach.
The rest of the essay first investigates Calvin's view of reality (or his ontology) and briefly summarises his view on the human being. Next, the implications of his dichotomist anthropology and his distinction between an earthly and a heavenly kingdom for his view on societal life are explained. The following section discusses his epistemology and his view on the relationship between reason and faith, philosophy and theology.
The results of this article can briefly be summarised as follows:
The religious direction (or trend) of Calvin's worldview was his sincere desire to obey only God, his Word and his will. He therefore rejected the synthetic mentality of the early Church Fathers and Medieval thinkers who tried to achieve a compromise between the Bible and pre-Christian Greek and Roman philosophies.
However, in his analysis of the structures of creation (his type of philosophy) Calvin did not succeed in fully realising his biblical normative approach. According to the problem-historical method, his type of worldview or "Christian philosophy" can be characterised in the following way:
 Calvin was not a mythologising or cosmogono-cosmological thinker. To the degree that he was still thinking synthetically, he can be called a purely cosmological thinker. However, as a biblical thinker he did not exclude God from his thinking, and also disliked any speculation about God which pretends to know more about God than Scripture reveals.
 Calvin rejected individualism as well as universalism and accepted a partially universalistic viewpoint, probably combined with a modified macro-microcosmos theory. (I indicate it as "modified", because the macro-microcosmos theory usually does not appear among purely cosmological partially universalistic thinkers like Calvin, but with cosmogono-cosmological thinkers adhering to a horizontal type of partial universalism.)
 Calvin rejected monism (the idea that reality was an original unity) and adhered to a dualistic ontology. According to him reality consists of a transcendent part, viz. God and a non-transcendent part, viz. creation. Neither monism nor dualism is, however, in harmony with the Scriptures. Monism can only be true if we erase the distinction between God and creation. Dualism proposes two ultimate sources of reality, whereas the Bible teaches God as the one Origin of everything that exists.
 Calvin's view of the human being follows his ontological dualism: he proposed a clearly dichotomist anthropology of body and soul/spirit as two separate entities.
 As a consequence of his anthropological dualism, Calvin distinguished between two worlds, governments or kingdoms in created reality (the non-transcendant world): an earthly and a heavenly. Sometimes it seems as if Calvin reverted to the Medieval scholastic dualism of nature and supernatural grace or perhaps Luther's doctrine of two kingdoms. In other instances, however, Calvin succeeded in freeing his thinking from this unbiblical idea, enabling him to proclaim the biblical view that God should be served in all domains of life and not only in the spiritual realm.
 In the light of the fact that Calvin emphasised illumination together with other Platonic ideas, he probably favoured an inconsistent empiristic epistemology which does not limit the acquisition of knowledge (as was the case with consistent empirists) to the visible world.
 While, according to the Thomistic tradition, reason should precede faith (intellego ut credam), Calvin clearly followed the Augustinian option according to which reason should follow faith (credo ut intellegam) and can therefore only confirm what has already been accepted in faith.
 Calvin did not provide a systematic technical description of and division between theology and philosophy. He himself calls his Institutes a Christian doctrine of faith or a Christian philosophy. The requirements for his philosophia Christiana - still valid today - are the following: (1) It should reject the idea of an autonomous reason. (2) It should be obedient to the will of God, revealed in his natural laws and in the Scriptures. (3) It requires a total renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23), guided by the Holy Spirit. (4) It should be practised in deep humility. This humilitas is firstly a radical humility before God, far more radical than ordinary humbleness. It is the opposite of human pride and self-conceit, relinquishing all presumption and self-importance. Secondly, such humility also includes the willingness to learn - without becoming a captive of their ideas - from pre-Christian philosophies.
As a summa summarum I agree with the remark of a contemporary Reformational philosopher. He writes that, in spite of Calvin's entanglement with pre-Christian philosophies, the advances he made in comparison with both predecessors and contemporaries have to be admired. We could not expect more from a fallible human being. But at the same time it would be a serious indictment on us, his successors, if we did not learn from him to develop a radically critical attitude and method in our philosophy and scholarship in general.

Key concepts: Reformation (16th century,) John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Philosophy (Christian), theology, view of reality (ontology), dualism, idea of God, creational ordinances, natural law, partial universalism, macro-microcosmos theory, dichotomy (anthropological), semi-mysticism, two realm doctrine (nature and grace), inconsistent empirism, autonomy (of reason), faith and reason (relationship), Platonism, Stoicism


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* Aangesien daar min vanuit veral Christelik-filosofiese hoek oor Calvyn se denke geskryf is, het die gasredakteur van hierdie uitgawe van TGW my versoek om hierdie breë oorsig oor Calvyn se werklikheidsvisie op te volg (vgl. later in hierdie nommer) met 'n toespitsing op die hervormer se mensvisie.
1 "... esse aliam quidem rerum terrenarum intelligentiam, aliam vero caelestium. Res terrenas voco, quae ad Deum regnumque eius, ad veram justitiam, ad futurae vitae baetitudinem non pertingunt: sed cum vita praesenti rationem relationemque habent, et quodammodo intra eius fines continentur. Res caelestes, puram Dei notitiam, verae justitiae rationem, ac regni caelestis mysteria. In priore genere sunt politia, oeconomia, artes omnes mechanicae, disciplinaeque liberales. In secundo, Dei ac divinae voluntatis cognitio, et vitae secundum eam formandae regula." (II, 2, 13.)
2 "...primum animandvertamus duplex esse in homine regimen: aterum spirituale, quo conscientia ad pietatem et ad cultum Dei instituitur alteram politicum, quo ad humanitatis et civilitatis officia, quae inter homines serranda sunt, homo eruditur. Vulgo appelari solent jurisdictio spiritualis et temporalis, non impropriis nominibus; quibus significatur, priorem illam regiminis speciem ad animae vitam pertinere, hanc autem in his quae praesentis vitae sunt versari non quidem in pascendo tantum aut vestiendo, sed in praescribendis legibus quibus homo inter homines vitam sancte, honeste modesteque exigat. Nam illa in animo interiori sedem habet haec autem externos mores duntaxat componit. Alterum vocare nobis liceat, regnum spirituale alterum, regnum politicum. Hae autem duo, ut partiti sumus, seorsum singula dispicienda semper sunt et dum alterum consideratur, avocandi avertendique ab alterius coitatione animi. Sunt enim in homine veluti mundi duo, quibus et varii reges et variae leges praeesse possunt" (III, 19, 15).
3 "Porro, quum duplex in homine regimen superius statuerimus et de altero illo, quod est in anima, seu interiori homine positum, aeternamque vitam respicit, satis multa verba alibi facerimus, de altero etiam, quod ad instituendam civilem duntaxat externamque morum justitiam pertinet, nonnihil ut disseramus, locus hic appetit" (IV, 20, 1).
4 "At vero qui inter corpus et animam, inter praesentem hanc fluxamque vitam et futuram, illam aeternamque discernere noverit, neque difficile intelliget, spirituale Christi regnum et civilem ordinationem res esse plurimum sepositas" (IV, 20, 1).
5 "Nunc iusta fidei definitio nobis constabit si dicamus essse divinae erga nos benevolentiae firmam certamque cognitionem, quae gratuitae in Christo promissionis veritate fundata, per Spiritum sanctum revelatur mentibus nostris et cordibus obsignatur" (III, 2, 7, slot).
6 "Haec nisi certitudo adsit quolibet humano iudicio et superior et validior frustra Scripturae authori-tas vel argumentis munietur, vel Ecclesiae consensu stabilietur, vel aliis praesidiis confirmabitur; siquidem, nisi hoc iacto fundamento, suspensa semper manet. Sicuti contra, ubi semel communi sorte exemptam religiose ac pro dignitate amplexi sumus, quae ad eius certitudinem animis nostris inserendam et infigendam non adeo valebant, tunc aptissima sunt adminicula" (I, 8, 1).
7 "Nam sapere nostrum nihil aliud esse debet quam mansueta docilitate amplecti, et quidem sine exceptione, quicquid in sacris Scripturis traditum est." (I, 18, 4, slot).
8 "Haec quidem secreta est absconditaque philosophia, et quae syllogismis erui non potest sed scillicet eam perdiscunt quibus oculos aperuit Deus, ut in suo lumine lumen videant" (III, 20, 1).
9 "O quantum ille profecit qui se non suum esse edoctus, dominum regimenque sui propriae rationi agbrogavit, ut Deo asserat! Nam ut haec ad pendendos homines efficacissma est pestis, ubi sibiipsis obtemperant, ita unicus est salutis portus, nihil nec spere, nec velle per seipsum, sed Dominum praeuntum duntaxat sequi. Sit hic itaque primus gradus, hominem a seipso discedere, quo totam ingenii vim applicet ad Domini obsequium. Obsequium dico non modo quod in verbi obedienta iacet, sed quo mens hominis, proprio carnis sensu vacua, se ad Spiritus Dei nutum tota convertit. Hanc transformationem (quam renovationem mentis Paulus appellat (Ephes. 4 f 23)) quum primus sit ad vitam ingressus, philsophia omnes ignorarunt. Solam enim rationem homini moderatricem praeficiunt, hanc solam putant audiendam, huic denique uni morum imperium deferunt ac permittunt; at Christiana philosophia illam loco cedere, Spiritui sancto subiici ac subiugari jubet ut homo iam non ipse vivat, sed Christum in se ferat viventem ac reginantem (Galat. 2 d. 20)" (III, 7, l.slot).
10 "Semper sane nihi vehementer illud Chrisostomi placuit, Fundamentum nostrae philosophiae esse humilitatem (Homil. de profectu Evangelii); magis etiamnum illud Augustini, Ouemadmodum, inquit, rhetor ille rogatus quid primum esset in eloquentiae praeceptis respondit pronuntiationem quid secundum, pronuntiationem quid terium pronuntiationem; ita si me interroges de religionis Christianae praeceptis, primo, secundo, et tertio et semper respondere liberet humilitatem (Epis. 56 ad Dioscorum)" (II, 2, 11.).



Bennie van der Walt studeer aan die (destydse) Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir CHO en die Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam en behaal die grade Th.B. en D.Phil. (Filosofie). Vanaf 1970 tot 1974 was hy senior lektor in Filosofie aan die Universiteit van Fort Hare, vanaf 1975 tot 1999 direkteur van die Instituut vir die Bevordering van die Calvinisme, later herdoop tot die Instituut vir Reformatoriese Studie, en (vanaf 1980) ook professor in Filosofie. Sedert sy emeritaat (1999) is hy navorsingsgenoot - tans by die Skool vir Filosofie op die Potchefstroomkampus van die Noordwes-Universiteit. Deesdae skryf hy heelwat artikels vir geakkrediteerde tydskrifte in Afrikaans en publiseer ook gereeld monografieë in Engels. Van sy geskrifte is ook vertaal in onder andere Hongaars, Nederlands, Koreaans, Spaans, Portugees, Xhosa en Tswana. Hy het twee eregrade van instellings in Korea en Hongarye ontvang.

Bennie van der Walt studied at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education and at the Free University of Amsterdam and obtained the Th.B.(Theology) and D.Phil. (Philosophy) degrees. From 1970 to 1974 he was senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Fort Hare; from 1975 to 1999 he was director of the Institute for Reformational Studies and also (from 1980) professor in Philosophy at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education. After his retirement (1999) he was appointed as research fellow of the School of Philosophy at the NorthWest University (Potchefstroom Campus). He has written many books and articles in refereed journals. Some of his writings were translated into the English, Dutch, Hungarian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Xhosa and Tswana languages. He received two honorary degrees from institutions in Korea and Hungary.

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