Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meyrick Carre, Realists and Nominalists

It is very difficult to summarize a book of dense summaries. Hopefully this post is not too abbreviated to be helpful.

Preface: As it is at the very least unhistorical to jump from Greece to the Renaissance, Carre sets out to examine the investigations of 4 medieval thinkers on the status of general ideas, or universals. It is in this central debate of the medieval era that one finds the roots of modern ideas about reason and knowledge.

I. St. Augustine: 1) During a brief biography, Carre apologizes for Augustine's "lack of rigor" due to the fact that he belonged to an "intellectual period in decay." (?) In any event, Aug. is said to be unique in arguing that, even after one has faith, one must toil for understanding, which, if sought correctly, is a kind of eternal wisdom and not a temporal knowledge. It is through Aug. that Greek philosophy is united with Catholic theology.

2) Augustine understood the pursuit of wisdom as a path of ascent from the changeable to the unchangeable. Although he posits different conceptions of the stages of ascent in different texts, in all he is concerned with showing the progressive stability and goodness of each stage. We ultimately arrive at an absolute, timeless reality, provided we are not distracted by the world of impermanence.

3) To combat Pyrrhonic skepticism, Augustine grounded knowledge in two arguments: 1) Si fallor sum: even when we doubt, we are aware of ourselves as existing in a state of doubt. The mind knows itself immediately as incorporeal, outside of space and time; it knows itself indirectly through the senses. (We should remember from the Confessions that knowledge for Aug. is anamnesis, i.e. an uncovering of what is already there). 2) Even skepticism assumes the principle of non-contradiction, which we can take as evidence of the moral law within. Unlike the Greeks, Aug. is concerned with the law within and not so much the outside world. But it is crucial that the inside is not just a "subjective" realm; it is the truth, more so than knowledge gained from the senses. There is Scientia (empirical knowledge) and there is Sapentia (eternal wisdom, intelligibiles res); only the latter is necessary, immutable and real.

4) The (active) mind is a wholly different substance from the (passive) body. Though we immediately think of Descartes, Carre asks us to remember that Aug.'s view comes directly from the Neoplatonic view of the mind as vehicle of spiritual order, though the results are somewhat similar.

The question arises, if the body is completely passive, how do we sense? Aug. argues that when the body's movement is impeded, the mind feels unpleasantness, and vice versa. The total effect of the various ways in which the impingements upon the body appear to the mind is called sensation.

Another question: if sensations are made by the mind, how do we know they correspond to reality? Aug. doesn't worry about this dilemma, and says, rather interestingly, that "the question of objectivity does not arise in relation to sensibilia" (15). Only judgments, not sensations, can be true or false (a vaguely Heideggerian move...the world is there for us in a way such that it can't really be questioned).

Next, Aug. posits non-sensory perceptions that result from an interior sense more primary than the 5 senses. He gets very close to Kant when he talks about spatiality being implied in perception.

And finally, whence general ideas? They are not derived from particulars. The whole notion of Aristotelian abstraction is foreign to him, as it is not the body and physical world that act upon the mind, but the mind that acts upon the body and the world. General ideas are independent of sensible origin, come from above and are real. In scientia, we apply our reason, itself "in contact with the intelligible and immutable truth," to "handle and direct the inferior things" (18).

5) Although Aug. is often taken to disparage all questions of science, he maintains a limited respect for investigations into the natural order in so far as it is understood to be an external reflection of the immutable truth. Investigation for its own sake is nothing but vain curiosity.

One of Aug.'s more interesting ideas about nature is that of rationes seminales, seminal reasons. This concept is born from the contradiction in Genesis between "God created everything at once" and the clear temporal progression that is later described. Aug. says that God created everything at once in potentia, and that each creature evolves according to the "germs of life" appropriated to it. We cannot create anything new. At most, we can facilitate the development of new creation for which God is alone responsible.

6) Unmistakably, the intellectual cognition of eternal things is to be preferred to scientia. Augustine points to mathematics to evidence the existence of immutable forms. Though number is absolutely distinct from its empirical instantiation, mathematical propositions are formal characteristics of the perceived world. Ideas are not just intelligible systems standing over and against empirical reality but are necessary to properly understand it. Moreover, because our minds are feeble, the mutable in its imperfection aids us in our pursuit of the immutable. In art, for instance, we contemplate the natural world in its unchangeable aspect (number).

But perhaps it seems that moral wisdom and mathematics are different things. No, says Aug., for the existence of form, of truth and of beauty as formal characteristics of the world evidence a supreme form and an absolute knowledge.

Aug. often talks about the "light" by which the mind is illuminated. In some of his texts, the light is truth, beauty and goodness. The mind is understood here in its active sense. In others, the light is God, and the mind is passive. Together, the light metaphors teach that "the principles which guide experience are realities which the mind is led to accept" and at the same time "that the meaning of these realities is not finally to be appreciated by purely intellectual approach" (29).

7) For our purposes, Aug.'s key idea is that universal forms constitute the nature of things. Oh, and Aug. was very influential.

II. Peter Abaelard: 1) From Plato the idea was inherited that the criteria of the real include permanence, objectivity and coherence. The unities which underlie the world (logical principles and standards of perfection) are alone real. Carre explains the prevalence of realism in three ways: a) Since Augustine, realism had become associated with philosophy itself. b) Platonism fit very well with Christian doctrine. c) The dominance of social institutions over individuals fits with realism.

Then came Boethius, who introduced the world to Aristotle and wrote an important commentary on a Porphyry text that was itself a commentary on the Categories. Here the question of the status of universals was raised. For Aristotle, we find the truth by finding a thing's essence, what distinguished it as itself. This universal essence can only be defined in one way.

2) Boethius, explaining Aristotle, argued that universals a) are real features of sensible objects, b) are immaterial, having no existence apart from sensible things, and c) do not exist independently of bodies. His commentary raised no controversy for four centuries, until Roscelin of Compiegne (1050-1125) propounded a full-fledged nominalism: general ideas are merely names, and common nature is wholly subjective. Anselm responded that if one could not grasp the way in which many individual men were united in the real species man, one could not understand the trinity.

3) Brief biograhy of Abaelard, born in 1079. He changed careers many times, first dialectics, then theology, then a mix of both. He was always known for his ruthless methods of criticism. In a much anticipated debate with Bernard of Clairvaux, Abaelard was condemned to silence by the Pope. He died without having ever reached Rome to protest this decision.

4) Abaelard describes realism as the doctrine that says only universals are real, and that mere accidents differentiate species into particulars. Universals subsist naturally, but exist actually in physical expression. This real subsistence can only be apprehended by pure thought.

His criticism of extreme realism runs as follows: as particulars only differ with regard to their accidents, being one in substance, there is no real distinction between individuals; clear thinking becomes impossible. He charges realists with pantheism, as there cannot be for them an essential difference between divine and physical substance.

He then turns to less extreme versions, like William of Champeux's doctrine of indifference, which accepts a pluralist basis of knowledge: things that are distinct are the same not essentially but indifferently, in so far as they are not different. Abaelard says this theory tries to combine distinct and relative senses of the terms universal and particular and ends in a similar muddle.

Finally there is a third position which understands the universal as collectio, the real collection of things included within it. But this position is also confused: the universal is to the particular not as the whole is to the part.

The first part concludes: the cardinal point of realism is that particular instances are inessential features. Abaelard says no, the manifold variety of things is not an illusion. The difference between individuals cannot rest upon accidents.

5) Abaelard then turns to contemporary theories of universals, specifically Roscelin's extreme form of nominalism, which he rejects. His guiding question is: to what do universals refer? General terms cannot be merely words: man is the name given to individuals in virtue of an element which is common to many of them. But is that commonality part of the individual itself, in the mind, or both? Of course, no such entity man exists. Man is a status (a thing's nature in the order of things). He admits that there is some common nature in things that is then grouped together in the mind; Abaelard is thus something of a realist. But he expands upon this limited realism when he adds a third, intermediate layer to object and perceiver: the image. When we perceive a tower, we retain an image of it in our mind which is itself the object of thought, not the tower itself. A universal term is one that refers to a generalized, confused and composite image of a number of things (a position Berkeley would later come to refute).

6) Abaelard now turns to answer Porphyry's three questions: a) Are universals real entities existing independently of the mind? Yes, they refer to reality, but in a certain sense exist only for thought, as they embrace an abstract view of concrete things. b) Are universals material or immaterial? They refer to real discrete objects and are thus material but conceive of these real objects immaterially. c) Are universals found in sensible objects or apart from them? A universal term does not point to any sensible object but because they are elicited from them, they may be described as being in them. And then his own question d) Could universals exist without particulars? No. If that were the case, there would be no many to which a universal could refer.

Universals are neither words nor things but sermones, concepts. Universal man is not that to which individual men owe their being, but neither is it a mere word. The activity of thought isolates common features, which are are genuine aspects of objects perceived. The mind then breaks up the complex detail of the concrete and refashions it into objects of thought. Sense and thought cooperate in all experience; when the mind perceives, general ideas are already present. Abaelard follows Augustine in saying that Ideas are patterns in the divine mind, but his theory of knowledge is Aristotelian.

7) Abaelard is often described as a conceptualist, but Carre tells us that this title does not suit him. Conceptualism states that the common element of a universal is abstracted arbitrarily, but Abaelard clearly admits a minimum of realism and does not believe that universals can be pure inventions of the mind. In fact, Abaelard is an early expression of the moderate realism developed later by Aquinas.

III. St. Thomas Aquinas: 1) In the 12th century, the west was introduced to the works of Aristotle through Avicenna and Averroes. Aquinas, who rejected both the Neoplatonism of Bonaventure on the one hand and Averroes/Avicenna on the other, melded Aristotle and Christianity with "Euclidean clarity."

2) Unless we understand Aquinas' philosophy of being, it is impossible to make sense of his epistemology. Following Aristotle, reality is absolute and unchanging. It is an end, to which all aspects of the universe point teleologically. Everything in existence is both potentia, in a state of imperfection that points to something higher, and act, or completion/stability/perfection. The more self-determined a thing is, the more it is pure act.

Potency and act are co-dependent. Matter is a passive potency, and form is the realization of matter in definite structures (act). Similarly, body is a passive potency dependent upon the act of mind. All things are related through potency and act. For instance, bricks may be potency in relation to the house they comprise, but are act when viewed from the perspective of the making of the brick. Growth, ethics and aesthetics are ideas that only make sense when we understand the relation of act and potency.

The essence of an object, a universal, is that in virtue of which it is what it is. But we may know the essence of something without it being something that exists. Existence is the concrete form that essence takes, and is thus act in relation to essence's potency.

completion incompletion
self-determination dependence
form matter
mind body
existence essence
house brick
brick clay
knowledge ignorance

3) Aquinas wants to show that objects of knowledge are material and not simply psychic entities, but also that an identity of subject and object is fundamental to experience. External objects must be shown to unite with the mind without changing their nature.

There are two ways a thing can change under the influence of form: 1) through "natural change," where form is physically transferred (for instance, when we touch something hot) and 2) through "mental change" (for instance, when we perceive the color of a thing without it changing the color of our eye). Here the mind reaches out to the object and renders it communicable in terms of likeness. Knowledge consists in the degree to which that likeness represents the object (exact opp. of Kant). The more intimately an object is known, the more it is one with the knower. The object is thus different from the subject but also a phase of its self-actualization.

4) Like Augustine, Aquinas holds that mind is incorporeal and wholly different from the body. But contra Augustine, he does not think the pure mind functions in experience. Man's mind is a mix of pure mind and body. Mind is in fact manifested at all levels of nature and finds its expression in varying degrees. The mind cannot function without its material expression, through which it comes closer to itself in act (sounds like Hegel). The mind is thus not related to the body as a pilot is to a ship; the body is a key component of knowledge because sensation is its root. Man's body and organs have very much to do with his essence.

Aquinas asserts that Plato's conception of the Ideas as creative substances is inadmissible in Christianity. But we can admit Aug.'s revision of Plato (divine Ideas) by saying that the human mind knows all things through eternal reasons because all intelligent experience is derived from God. But we have to add that there is only intelligible content to knowledge because of sensible experience. The body is not a hindrance to the mind. Only through it can the human mind gain knowledge.

5) Though the human mind has many potencies, mind is in essence act and thus constitutes a unity. Perception requires a general sensibility that is made explicit in knowledge. Sensation is the realization, or act, of the sense-organ; sensory elements are secondary. Thus, we know objects directly, and their signs indirectly. For instance, we know the hammer directly. That it has certain features we know only in reflection: "sensible images enter into consciousness when they are stripped of their sensibility" (Heidegger?).

Undeniably, there are two orders discovered in knowledge, that of thought and perception. But if the two are divided from each other, knowledge becomes impossible. Carre explains, quite succinctly, that "universality is indeed the characteristic of thought, but the objects of thought need not exist as universals" (85).

6) The active intellect (not part of the divine mind, contra Aug.) is uniquely human: its function is to make general, and thus intelligible, sensory particulars. Aquinas compares the active intellect to a light, which illuminates external reality and makes it understandable. Without its work of abstraction, we would not be able to know any particularity. The species which is abstracted serves as an "ideal intermediary which unites object and subject in an act of consciousness." The species is thus not an object but a means of thinking. Knowledge is concerned directly with reality, but it can grasp that reality only be freeing the intelligible form implicit in the particular. Truth is the conformity of the mind with the form pervading the object as mediated by the species.

7) Carre turns to an important section of the Summa where Aquinas differentiates his position from sensationalism on the one hand and Augustinian idealism on the other. There are three views on the matter of knowledge: a) Democritus: all knowledge can be reduced to impressions of sensible entities on the mind. b) Plato: thought is an immaterial power distinct from sensation, and it alone is the foundation of knowledge. c) Aristotle: a third way - sensation is not an activity of the mind alone but a complex of mind-body. Thought depends on sensation, but images themselves cannot affect the mind. They only become intelligible with the aid of the active intellect. This final position is also Aquinas's.

8) Though his interest in scientific matters was meagre, Aquinas refuted those who wished to attribute the cause of everything to God and belittle the role of natural causation. If God alone causes everything, then we would not see the effects that we do in nature. This is not to say that God is not present in the work: he is like a craftsmen with his tools. Nature is Gods instrument. Aquinas was fighting a resurgence of a Manichaen worldview that deemed matter evil. Divine goodness is the goal of all material things.

9) In sum, the progress of thought is the effort to realize the ideal unity which is the common ground of mind and objects. The mind apprehends universals, which are found in the particular and never apart from it, directly, and particulars indirectly. Because the active intellect makes sensory data intelligible by means of these universals, we cannot attain the essence of things directly, for we are dependent on perception, which compels our thought to be discursive. The modes of thought by which the mind understands the world are different from the mode of being in which nature itself exists.

IV. William of Ockham: 1) Nominalism was a sign of the disintegration of medieval philosophy. Its exposition by William of Ockham was seen as unorthodox and dangerous, and this led him into an intensely polemical life. He succumbed to the plague in 1349.

2) Aquinas died in 1274, and the remainder of the century was spent debating his ideas. A reactionary Augustinian movement broke out, and Ockham was born into this polemic. He was also the heir to Peter Abaelard and Petrus Hispanus, from whom he took the basic idea that the generality in our thinking is essentially subjective.

3) Ockham is most well-known for his razor, a rule of economy which was directed primarily against realism. For Ockham, universals are convenient mental fictions. He argues that if the universal "humanity" were indeed an entity distinct from a particular individual and at the same time part of its essence, it would be in a number of different places at the same time and thus be contradictory.

His own theory of knowledge runs something like this: the basis of all experience is intuition. Intuited knowledge is clear and certain, as opposed to abstract knowledge, which is by comparison doubtful and confused. Only intuition, a combination of sensory and intellectual factors, can produce an object, and it alone is reliable. We know reality directly, not through an intermediary like species intelligibilis.

Strangely, Ockham follows Augustine in saying that the knowledge we gain from our inner senses is more immediate than that of the outer senses, thus introducing some hesitation about his proposed certainty of the knowledge of objects. Ockham expands the category of empiricism to include many rationalist elements.

4) Ockham rejected extreme nominalism; for him, there is some kind of reality attached to general notions. Universals have a logical status of existence. A few different concepts are needed to understand his view of universals: first, he classifies the contents of thought under the heading of first and second intentions. First intentions are primary experiences, direct intuitions of things. Second intentions are signs of first intentions. He then introduces another concept, the suppositio, or substitutions, of which there are three: a) material: grammatical symbols (nouns, adjectives, etc.), b) personal: man for particular man, c) simple: man in general, refers only to concepts, not realities. Ockham is here distinguishing between real and logical meaning, between assertions about forms of discourse and assertions about things. Knowledge of reality is of a different order than logical knowledge.

Universals, then, are second intentions of the simple order. They refer to terms, not things. All previous difficulties with universals spring from the confused attempt to make them both singular and plural at the same time.

Ockham's challenge to theology is significant: for him, it is absurd to think, with Aug., that Ideas are things in the divine mind. Ockham would later come to change his view, saying that universals are not logical content formed by the mind but qualities of the mind itself.

5) Ockham's revolution can be summarized quite succinctly: existence is composed of individual items in various relations. No universal essences are required to be expressed in order for matter to become individual.

6) The relation between the provinces of faith and reason has always been a problem. Ockham denied that any of the central beliefs of of religion can be logically demonstrated. Conclusive philosophical knowledge of God cannot be attained. Scholasticism, which was inspired by the belief in the rational unity of philosophy and theology, was ruined.

7) The successors of Ockham, mainly British (Locke, Berkeley, etc.), developed his sceptical treatment of knowledge. Realism influenced Descartes and the rationalists. The end.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

After God

Mark C. Taylor, 2008

Chapter One: Theorizing Religion
This book is set against what some have termed the “fourth Great Awakening.” After years of theorizing the end of religion and the advent of a new, secular world, it has become apparent that the world is growing more religious, not less. Why, Mark asks, is that?

In essence, he argues, it’s because neither critics nor supporters (neo-foundationalists) realize that secularity is an essentially religious phenomenon, with roots tracing back to the Protestant revolution of the 16th century. Likewise, neither side has an adequately broad definition of religion to allow them to see the full extent of its presence in the contemporary world.

To counter this, Mark offers his own definition of religion:
“Religion is an emergent, complex, adaptive network of symbols, myths, and rituals that, on the one hand, figure schemata of feeling, thinking, and acting in ways that lend life meaning and purpose, and, on the other, disrupt, dislocate, and disfigure every stabilizing structure.”

He then proceeds to analyze the ways in which his project of offering a definition of religion run counter to the prevailing intellectual trends of the past several decades. The main problem is the backlash against structuralism. He cites Eliade and his study of cosmogonic myths as the paradigmatic example of structuralism. In the Sacred and the Profane, Eliade attempted to trace universal, structural features that defined “the religious experience,” much in the way James attempted to do so by differentiating between the healthy-minded homo religiosus, who sees all events as a call for affirmation, and the sick soul, who sees the world as fundamentally evil and alienating. Likewise, Mark groups Tillich with the these two other ways of being religious, arguing that his distinction between “the ontological type of philosophy of religion,” which proceeds “from the thought to the being of God,” and the “cosmological version,” which follows the effect, or created world, back to its source in God, serve similar functions. In the first way, man discovers himself when meeting God, whereas in the second, God remains something fundamentally alien to man.

Mark collapses all of these distinctions into that between monism and dualism. James’s healthy soul and Tillich’s ontological version of philosophy are types of monism, whereas James’s sick soul and Tillich’s cosmological argument belong to a fundamentally dualistic worldview.

Mark clearly remains very sympathetic to the structuralist project, thinking the distinction between the sick and healthy minded souls are useful, if ultimately inadequate, tools for organizing our understanding of the various symbols in religious traditions. However, he also admits that such sympathies have long been in question by post-structuralists, who believe, for a variety of political and philosophical reasons that we know quite well, that the structuralist project is a fundamentally violent one, embedded in colonialist roots and indifferent to the lived reality of other, non Judeo-Christian traditions.

After God, then, is an effort to move beyond the impasse between structuralists and post-structuralists, as well as the division between monism and dualisms. Instead, the book attempts to conceptualize religion as the virtual field upon which all of these possibilities plays out. After God, in short, is Mark’s affair with the meta-narrative.

Chapter Two: The Protestant Revolution
However, in order to have an adequate grasp of the concepts at stake, mct next turns to the origin of modernity and our concepts of secularity, arguing that “modernity is a theological invention.” While acknowledging that modernity is a term so contested as to be almost meaningless, mct nevertheless claims that all definitions share a common belief in self-reflexivity. “To be modern, it is necessary to regard oneself as different from others who have gone before.” Modernity is about rupture.

The source of this rupture can be traced back to Luther’s turn to the subject and formulation of the divided soul, the paradox of man being “simul iustus et peccator” - simultaneously sinner and justified. Much of the analysis given is biographical information covered in Oberman’s book, but mct also gives a better sense of the influence of nominalism and Ockham. For years after the crusades brought Aristotle back to christendom, the rationalism of Aquinas dominated Christian theology. Already in Aquinas, mct sees the roots of secularism, arguing that “the Thomistic synthesis points in two opposite directions: on the one hand the natural domain is understood as distinct from but subordinate to the supernatural, and on the other hand, the natural realm in all of its manifestations is characterized by an autonomy that eventually leads to its independence from the supernatural” (51). While the Thomistic system provided meaning and stability in the High Middle ages, the late Middle Ages, marked by the Black Death and the instability of shifting social orders, no longer found it as persuasive.

Within this context, nominalism developed. While thomism stressed knowledge of God above all else and argued that God only willed what was reasonable, nominalism posited God as omnipotent will, and absolutely free. The world existed from moment to moment by God’s will, and thus was radically contingent. There was no guarantee that the cosmic order would remain stable, since God could always undo what was done.
This led to an empirical epistemology, claiming that the individual was the only thing that could be known, though all worldly knowledge was provisional, grounded as it is in the abyss of God’s will. As an extension of the provisional nature of knowledge, a new understanding of language develops, one where words are detached from things, leaving us in a ‘linguistic labyrinth’ where signs point only to other signs.

For obvious reasons, this emphasis on empiricism created the conditions for modern science. More than that, nominalism both reflected and created the sense of prevailing anxiety of Luther’s age. Luther, like many medievals, was plagued with a sense of terrible anxiety about the (im)possibility and necessity of fulfilling God’s laws. After years of torment, Luther was struck by a revelation while reading a passage of Paul in Romans 1:17 about justification by grace. He then realized that God had the power to bestow righteousness on men, without this erasing their fundamental sinfulness. Thus the protestant believer confesses, I am what I am not.

More than that, the influence of Luther also continues to the present regarding the way it replaced the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church with the decentralized, lateralized community of believers. His doctrine of a calling, the idea that all vocations, not just religious, were responses to the will of God collapsed the sacred into the profane. However, though in this respect Luther foreshadowed developments of network culture, in other respects, his hatred of money and apparent dualistic rejection of the world seem contrary to the developments of the modern world.

In those respects, Calvin was much more influential on modernity than Luther. Calvin offered a way of rationalizing belief that would provide guidance to countless Christians. As Weber noted, the belief that worldly success proved once status as saved - though not necessarily advocated by Calvin himself - in combination with Luther’s doctrine of vocation, led to a development of inner asceticism that proved essential for the development of capitalism. Most importantly, though, Calvin declared usury acceptable, almost single-handedly leading to a new conception of commerce, where money/signs can make money/signs. In this, one can see the influence of Ockham, where signs referred to signs.

Ultimately, Mark claims the real difference between Calvin and Luther came down to the way in which they conceptualized the relation between signs and signifiers. When Luther claimed that Christ was present in the eucharist, he was embedded in a medieval paradigm, where signs still referred to things, whereas when Calvin claimed the eucharist was symbolic, it was another instance of signs referring to signs.

Finally, mct ends with a discussion of the more general trends that accompanied the Protestant revolution: literacy climbs with the emphasis on each reading the scripture, mass communication spreads, and in Catholic countries where literacy is suppressed, industrialization is delayed.

Chapter 3: Subjectivity and Modernity
Chapter three begins with a discussion of the relation between revolution and modernity. Luther’s divided subject eventually became the autonomous modern subject. Coupled with the decentralization of power implicit in the priesthood of all believers, these theological results of the Protestant revolution primed Western culture for the French and American political revolutions, and democracy more generally.

The links between the American revolution and theology are perhaps more obvious. America began with the religious projects of the Puritans. Operating within Ockham’s distinction between potentia absoluta (God’s capacity to do anything) and potentia ordinata (God’s freely chosen decision to limit his power to allow a space for human action), the Puritans conceived of themselves as actualizing the “city upon the hill,” becoming a guide for all nations. Thus, the origins of American exceptionalism. These origins in utopian individualism made Americans generally wary of government; they acknowledged its necessity, due to man’s sinful nature, but nonetheless maintained a “nearly messianic belief in the benefits of liberty,” whose influence on the revolution is obvious (89).

In addition, the refusal of Church authority led Americans to place extreme importance on the literal truth of the scriptures. Yet in contrast to this extreme, rigid religiosity, there was also a strong strain of deism among the founding fathers, which mct traces back to the influence of Newton. Newton considered his scientific efforts to be supportive of Protestant Christianity; natural laws, he claimed, were imposed upon inert matter by a transcendent creator God. Such laws show the orderly nature of the world, but in no way undercut the free will of God who could nonetheless have willed otherwise.

This notion of a rationally ordered world was picked up by Locke and other deists. Locke defined the course of much later philosophy by developing 2 principles:
1. “Interpretive schemata emerge from but do not act back upon sense data.
2. “Complex ideas and systems can always be reduced to the simple units from which they are constituted.”
Locke attempted to synthesize religion with rationality, but his efforts were quickly overshadowed by other interpreters who offered entirely rational versions of religion, at the expense of revelation.

In contrast to all of these trends that led to the American Revolution, the French Revolution stemmed from a much more radical relation to religion. Oppressed by the power of the Catholic Church, the French became much more militantly atheistic, making their revolution and subsequent notion of secularism “inseparable from the negation of Christianity” (98). Ironically, though, the French constitution essentially substituted the nation for the Church, so far as power structures go. French society, then, remained rigidly hierarchical.

Next, mct turns to the relation between the French Revolution and the Kantian subject. Mct makes the claim that Kantian autonomy is inseparable from what he terms “an-archy,” literally “without beginning.” “Autonomy presupposes an-archy, which is the nonfoundational foundation or groundless ground of the law that the self-legislating subject gives to itself” (102). The Kantian subject is a moment of revolution for mct. Whereas his predecessors had conceived of universality as something internally imposed, and the relationships between heteronomy and autonomy as oppositional, Kant internalized all of those dualities, making the universal internally legislated. Recognizing the tension between these dualities, Kant develops a notion of “inner teleology” in his Third Critique, a ‘purposiveness without purpose,’ in which means an ends are reciprocally related in such a way that each becomes itself in and through the other and neither can be itself apart from itself” (109). This is the moment in which Kant discovers “the principle of constitutive relationality, in which identity is differential rather than oppositional” (110). In short, identity involves an excess which always escapes identity; identity is predicated on the other which can not be wholly incorporated.

Kant’s successors realized that inner teleology was most evident in the self-reflexive structure of self-consciousness. The subject in self-consciousness turns back on itself, becoming an object for itself through self-representation. Coming into presence (Darstellung) is predicated upon representation (Vorstellung). Specifically, mct sees this in Hegel. In Hegel, the will can only be itself through its particular instantiations; put otherwise, the universal will id “in itself” particular (117). Thus, Spirit is inescapably active and restless, and the subject can only be itself by being other.

Heidegger simply brings to fruition this train by refusing to close the loop of self-reflexivity. Heidegger locates this obscurity in the inescapable temporality of the subject. The product of a past that is never accessible to itself as a modality of the present, the subject remains adrift, incapable of accessing an inescapably open future. The past that never was returns as the future that never will be.

All of this works its ways back to the absence of the Lutheran and Calvinist God. Deus absconditus becomes subjectus absconditus; the radical alterity of the absent/transcendent God is internalized. And so we are left with the radically incomplete, open subject, who desires desire, and strives restlessly in he spirit of ceaseless creativity.

Chapter Four: Religious Secularity
Chapter four opens with an analysis of the paradigmatic theory of secularization, Peter Berger’s in The Sacred Canopy. The gist of it echoes what mct said earlier; secularization is supposed to accompany modernization. However, despite its supposed roots in a disenchanted world, such an analysis is predicated on religious notions of teleology, insofar as it posits the secularized society as its goal; it’s also normative, as it considers secularization a mark of progress, and considers the return of religion as a form of regression.

This is not a coincidence, and much of the chapter (and the book) centers around the idea that secularity and religion are co-emergent and co-dependent. Yet to speak of secularism is incorrect; rather, one should speak of secularisms. mct identifies two basics ways of the world becoming secular. First, God can become so transcendent as to be absent, or, second, religion can become so immanent as to be invisible.

The first form of secularity is unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Whereas in old, polytheistic traditions, divinity was largely immanent, Judaism broke from that tradition by appropriating the transcendent creator God as its God and the only God. With this God came creativity as we know. In the polytheistic paradigm, life was meaningful because it conformed to the patterns of mythical narratives, which, in turn, echoed the rhythm in the seasons. Yet, ultimately, this left no room for creativity, which is only possible with a Judaic God characterized as creator and origin of the world. So too does Judaism introduce the notion of contingency; only with a created world is it possible to conceive of the world as contingent. Finally, Exodus, with its narrative of bondage, desert, and Promised land, offers the first example of the tripartite conception of history that will come to characterize many versions of history, both medieval Christian narratives, and our own contemporary division between ancient, modern, and postmodern.

Once the transcendent God arrives, a series of dualisms take shape:
Chosen/not chosen
Here we see a familiar narrative forming. The transcendent God gives universal laws that gradually become more and more autonomous, particularly as religious strictures evolved forbidding representation of God. Eventually God becomes so remote that it can no longer be conceived or represented, throwing the human mind back on its own power to abstract and represent.

In contrast to Judaism, Christianity represents, however problematically, a new immanence. Problematically, because it claims to be heir to the Judaic God of transcendence, leading to centuries of disputes about how to reconcile the claim of Christ’s divinity with the unity of God. This problem arises largely because difference and unity are conceived of as mutually exclusive at the time.

The most significant attempt to formulate a doctrine of the trinity comes with Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The council was intended to mediate between the left-wing Origenists, who claimed the Son was subordinate to the father, and the right-wing Origenists who claimed the two were identical and equal. The right-wing Origenists were technically called modalistic monarchists, because they argued that the Father and the Son were modes of the same God. However, their opponents nicknamed them patripassionists, because the logical consequence of their stance was that God the Father must have suffered when the Son was crucified.

The major left-wing Origenist, Arius, thought this a blasphemous claim, as it contradicted the notion that God was immutable. Instead, he essentially denied the incarnation. In turn, he was attacked by Alexander and Athanius, who believed that to deny the divinity of Christ and the Incarnation was to deny the possibility of salvation. It’s interesting to think that Christianity wasn’t always primarily soteriological.

Despite tentative political compromises- the claim that God is three in one - this is never really solved, because the terms of the debate, which conceptualize plurality and identity as opposites preclude the possibility of a resolution. It’s not until Hegel appropriates the trinitarian structure as the dynamic structure of all reality, and theorizes the dialectic that allows one to understand identity and difference as continuous (see above), that the trinitarian debates can truly be resolved.

Hegel’s right-wing followers appropriate Hegel’s system to defend traditional Protestantism. In contrast, the left-wing followers believe Hegel has just proved that belief and practice are epiphenomenal. Consequently, all religious experience can be understood as manifesting and responding to social and economic practices, among others.

Hegel’s absolute knowledge leads to the hermeneutics of suspicion, because it implies that reason itself has a history. If reason evolves, than our notion of things such as beauty and truth are contingent, not universal absolutes. Applied to the bible, this leads to an acceleration of biblical criticism. Secondary biblical criticism existed for centuries before Hegel, of course, but followers of Hegel used his work to conclude that the Bible was wholly historical and that religion ought to be replaced by reason.

In essence, Hegel is the source of many of the phenomena mention in chapter one. Origins become more important; the hermeneutics of suspicion invoke the difference, in some form or another, between superstructure and infrastructure, which turn out to be secularized versions of the difference between the Forms and their shadows that we see in Plato.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin

Book I The Knowledge of God the Creator: 1- 7; 15

Chapter 1
In the first book of the Institutes Calvin discusses the natural knowledge that we have of God as the Creator of the World. The knowledge of God that we have of him as Creator of the world is distinct from the supernatural knowledge that we have of him as Redeemer.
Calvin maintains that knowledge of God and knowledge of our own selves are interrelated. On the one hand, he claims that without knowledge of the self we cannot have knowledge of God. When we come to know our own terrible state we become aware of the perfection of God. On the other hand, without knowledge of God we cannot have knowledge of ourselves. When we come to know how great God is we see more clearly how terrible we actually are.

Chapter 2
In contrast to a purely intellectual view of knowledge of God, Calvin maintains that piety is requisite for knowledge of God. Knowledge of God for him does not consist merely in conceiving that God exists, but also what our response to God should be. We need to acknowledge not just that God exists but his power and beneficence to us as the source of all good. Knowledge of God also requires truth and reverence. This knowledge should teach fear and reverence. It should seek good from God and give credit to him. It necessitates a realization of creaturely dependence and requires obedience; faith and fear, reverence and worship.

Chapter 3
Calvin further argues that this knowledge of God as the Creator is naturally implanted in the minds of men. This innate awareness of divinity, therefore stands as an ever present conviction of man for his infidelity to God. Man cannot claim not to know God. While Calvin acknowledges that oftentimes individuals have contrived religious forms in order to oppress others, he ardently claims that each individual has a natural, true sense of the existence of God. He states that actual godlessness is impossible, and that belief in God is ineradicable. Additionally, because he believes that belief in God is in innate, when individuals do try to get rid of it, they are acting against their nature. Worship of God is, according to Calvin, the natural end of man as a law of his creation.

Chapter 4
As Calvin has just argued that belief in God is natural and ineradicable, he must know account for the readily apparent lack of piety in the world around him. He argues that in sin the natural knowledge of God is either smothered or corrupted. He claims that impious superstition stems from haughtiness, an overstepping of human boundaries and, consequent, fashioning God in one’s own image. This becomes a central point for Calvin. According to him, we are not to fashion God according to our own whims. Additionally, all false worship springs from false conceptions of God. Hypocrisy results from religion that is performed merely out of fear of punishment, instead of pious life, expiatory rites. Thus, according to Calvin, in every type of sinning there is recognition of God, though this recognition is a mutilated form of true belief and piety.

Chapter 5
In addition to the awareness of God, which Calvin thinks is innate, he also argues that knowledge of God is available from the universe itself. Indeed, Calvin maintains that God’s existence is readily apparent in all of his works. This clarity is so self-evident that it strips us of all excuse for not acknowledging God. The divine wisdom is displayed for all to see, including the ignorant, in the order of the universe and of the human being. In fact, the majesty and order of the human being is the loftiest proof of the divine.
However, despite the apparentness of God’s existence and wisdom, man turns ungratefully away from God. Moreover, they use their minds and bodies, which should be the greatest sign of God, to distance themselves from him. Additionally, they substitute the other sign of God – nature – in the place of God.
Calvin then discusses the soul and nature and their relationship to God. First, he argues against the idea that the soul is mortal. He claims that since the soul occupies itself with many divine things, outside of the scope of the body, it must be immortal. The soul is not just the form of the body. Further, if the soul is immortal, then God is needed to give it its supernatural gifts. Turning to nature, Calvin argues against pantheism. God is not nature, rather he is the creator of nature. When we contemplate both the powers of our soul as well as the power of nature we must contemplate their source.
Calvin then turns to God government and judgment. In addition to revealing himself in the regular order of nature, God is apparent in that which is outside of nature – miracles and reward and punishment (hedged appropriately to allow good things to happen to bad people and bad things to happen to good people, of course). Indeed, it is shown that God has sovereign sway over the whole life man. Personal events that seem to occur by chance are really from God. God’s wisdom and power are readily apparent, though most do not see them. (This is a theme that will be constantly returned to – readily apparent, yet not seen by most) Consequently, Calvin maintains that we ought not to rack our brains to prove God; rather we should simply apprehend him in his works. Thus, Calvin prioritizes a particular form of perception over speculation. The purpose of this knowledge is not for pure speculation but rather for worship. Additionally, this knowledge leads to the awareness of the future life and future punishment.
Despite the readily apparent signs of God’s power and wisdom in nature, this evidence does not seem to profit human beings. We all turn away from the God that is perceptible in man and nature. The manifestations of God are obscured by both human superstition and philosophical errors. Instead of being open to the true God, individuals make up their own Gods. This theological diversity, in turn, causes people to doubt God entirely. Thus, despite the apparentness of God, we cannot gain certainty about God from both man and nature. In truth, only God himself can give proper, certain witness of himself. The evidence for God in nature is therefore not enough to allow us to proper recognize God, though it suffices to render us inexcusable when we deny him.

Chapter 6
Since nature is not enough for the proper recognition of God, Scripture is needed to give us proper ideas about God. God bestows the actual knowledge of himself upon us only though Scripture. He gathers up the vague sense of him that we have though man and nature and clarifies it. Scripture helps us to identify the proper God. Without Scripture we are left with our own contrivances. There are two sorts of knowledge of God in Scripture, Knowledge of God the Creator and God the Redeemer.

Chapter 7
Calvin next polemicizes against that Catholic Church’s insistence that Scripture gains its authority through canonization by the Church. Instead, Calvin argues that Scripture has authority from God. Any other authority from men would leave room for uncertainty. Indeed, the Church itself only gains authority from Scripture. Furthermore, Calvin claims that it is readily apparent that the Scriptures are from God. Scripture, according to Calvin, bears its own authentication. Through the testimony of the Holy Spirit individuals can perceive and have immediate certainty that God is manifest in Scripture. This faith is only given to a few and is sealed in the heart through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 15
Calvin then discusses the human nature as it was originally created. We must recognize the difference between man’s state/nature before and after the fall from Paradise. He maintains that man was initially created perfect from God’s hand. Indeed, that is why Scripture says that he was created in the image of God. In order to understand this human perfection we must look towards what Scripture promises will be restored through Jesus. Jesus as Second Adam comes to correct the flaws introduced by the First Adam. Original and Restored man are complete in righteousness, knowledge, and holiness. This original nature, which will be restored in the future, is at present vitiated, though it is faintly present in those that have been elected for Grace.
Calvin then argues against the Manichean belief that the soul is an emanation of God. He argues that if this was so, then God would be capable of change because, as we see, the soul can change.
Finally, Calvin discusses the nature of the soul and its faculties. As mentioned, the soul is immortal. It role is to govern the body. Its natural purpose is to cultivate righteousness and closeness to God through reason. He then goes through the classical components of the soul, dividing it first into the Understand and the Appetite. The Understanding can, in turn, be divided into the Theoretical and Practical Understanding, while the Appetite can be divided into Will and Concupiscence. This scheme can be simplified into just the Understanding and the Will.
Calvin discusses Adam’s Fall from the point of view of this psychology. He maintains that Adam had the capacity to stand and choose well – not sin. He argues that, indeed, it is only before the Fall that truly Free Choice existed. Weak will lead to the Fall and now we lack the perfect Free Choice that Adam possessed.

Book II: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First Disclosed to the Father Under the Law and then to Us in the Gospel: 1-4; 6; 12-14

Chapter 1
In Book II Calvin proceeds to discuss the fallen state of man and how he is in need of a Redeemer. He begins by describing the Fall of Man. According to him, it is important to know the greatness of our original condition as well as the extent to which we have degenerated from that state as it motivates us to recover what we have lost. Additionally, knowledge of our initial purposes and gifts shows us our duty, while knowledge of our current state shows us our lack of ability to discharge that duty.
Additionally, the story of the fall shows us that the initial impetus for sin is unfaithfulness, which then leads to pride, ambition, ungratefulness, and eventually heresy.
Moreover, Calvin argues that the original sin is transmitted from one generation to another through our corrupted carnal nature. It is a hereditary depravity and corruption of nature, which makes us liable to God’s wrath. Also, it is the cause of all further sins. While sin is transmitted through the carnal nature, it corrupts more than that, both the flesh and the mind. Original sin is a natural corruption of the nature created by God. It is not due to man’s original nature, but can be considered natural because of its heredity.

Chapter 2
In an assault of a large part of the Western philosophical tradition and, specifically, many of the Church Fathers, Calvin argues that, while man was created with Free Will, since the fall he has lost it. Against many Christian thinkers that attempt to establish the consistency of Free Will and Grace, Calvin, according to him following Augustine, argues that there really is no Free Will in man’s fallen state. Indeed, after the fall man is only really free to be servile to sin. Freedom only comes through Grace. To ascribe true Free Will to man is to deprive God of the honor that is due to him. It is the work of the devil to make us think that we accomplish anything on our own.
Though through the Fall man has lost all of his supernatural gifts, faith righteousness, love of God, and charity, as well as corrupted many of his natural gifts, soundness of mind, uprightness of heart, enough reason remains to differentiate man from the animals. We still have a love of truth, though we often use this love to pursue quibbles and vanities. Reason is efficacious in the human domain, social and political organization, while it handicapped in the heavenly domain, discriminating God’s will and commandments. Indeed, our natural spiritual insight as regards knowing God, salvation, and the way to follow to God is seriously limited.
Thus, man’s knowledge of God must be God’s own work. It is the result of a special illumination of the Holy Spirit that is beyond the power of unaided man. Without God’s help we cannot know our own calling. This special insight is above and beyond the knowledge of God the Creator which is derivable from the natural world. As discussed above, that knowledge does not give us specific knowledge of God, it merely renders us inexcusable. Additionally, though natural knowledge is partially helpful in leading us to interpersonal, social values and laws, it gives us no insight into religious doctrine and rites.
Calvin maintains that unaided by the Holy Spirit man never follows that Good. He may pursue the natural, but this does not demonstrate Free Will, but compulsion by nature. We do not follow the good unless the Holy Spirit impels us. Indeed, it is not that we want to follow the good but are too weak; rather our will does not even desire to follow the good unless the Holy Spirit motivates us.

Chapter 3
Calvin argues that fallen man’s nature is entirely corrupted and nothing good can come out of it. God grants grace to the elect and cleanses their soul. Short of this, God may sometimes restrain the un-elected from sinning for the sake of others. Sin is necessarily part of man; it is of man’s nature. However, he still cannot be said to be compelled to sin.
True Grace does not merely aid man to do good, rather it wholly renews and transforms man. Moreover, the elected does not even cooperate with Grace, rather the will is only first actuated to do good by Grace. Faith, seen as the cause of willing and doing good, is the free gift of God. Furthermore, the decision to continue to do good after we receive initial grace is not in our power either, rather it too is wholly from God. In sum, God is exclusively responsible for any good will we have or good deed we perform. There is not partnership in God’s Grace.

Chapter 4
As long as man is not renewed through Grace, he is under Satan’s power. This causes him to sin. However, he is not compelled to be under Satan’s sway, indeed, he is there willingly. Calvin maintains though that God may use both Satan and sinning individuals as tools in his Divine plan. In every case, God’s sovereignty stands above any creatures’ freedom.

Chapter 6
Calvin claims that only Jesus as the Mediator between God and Man can help fallen man attain redemption. He argues that even in the Old Testament the Grace of God can only be attained through the Mediator. A Mediator is necessary because God’s majesty is too lofty to be attained by unaided man. Therefore, Jesus as Mediator is needed in order for us to know we are saved. Indeed, God can be comprehended only through Jesus; we cannot taste God’s mercy through the God of Creation.

Chapter 12
Only one who was true God and true Man could mediate between man and god. He must be God because no man could reach God. Additionally, God alone is too removed and could not come down to us. Thus, the Mediator must be both God and Man. He must be a God, but must have lived and been tempted like men.
Additionally, the Mediator took upon himself our nature in order to give us what was his - grace. Moreover, he must be a God in order to oppose death and sin with life and righteousness. Also, only one who was true God and true man could be obedient in our stead. Only man is obligated to be obedient, only God could have succeeded in being obedient. Finally, only one who is true God and true man could overcome death. Only a man could have died, while only a God could overcome death.

Chapter 13
In contrast to a number of other Christian thinkers, Calvin maintains that the sole purpose of Christ’s incarnation was man’s redemption. Additionally, contrary to many ancient heresies, Calvin claims that Jesus assumed the true substance of human flesh. Through the flesh he was a descendent of the Virgin Mary, through the spirit he was Son of God.

Chapter 14
Calvin then explains how the two natures of the mediator, God and Man, make up one person. He compares it to the body and the soul; two things which have different attributes, yet make up one person. Similarly, some attributes of Jesus refer to him as Man, some to him as God, and some of them to him as the united God/Man person. This is contrast to Nestor, who recognized two Christs, one Divine and one Man. Additionally, it is opposed to the doctrine of Eutyches who fused the two natures together, God-Man instead of true God and true man. Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God. He is descended from David according to the flesh and the designated Son of God in power.

Book III The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ; What Benefit Come to Us from it, and What Effect Follow: 1-2

Chapter 1
According to Calvin, the Grace that Christ endows us with works through the secret working of the Spirit. It is affected by the Holy Spirit that bonds us to Christ. This Holy Spirit was given to Christ in order to separate the elect from the world and gather them into the hope of eternal inheritance. In order to understand the Holy Spirit we must not coldly contemplate it, rather we must become intent upon it. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to endow us with Faith.

Chapter 2
The faith endowed by the Holy Spirit is not a believing in something, some sort of holding a propositional statement. Rather, it seems to be state of reliance upon God and Christ. This reliance is necessary because of the fact that we, as God creatures, are obligated to observe the law, yet we cannot. Therefore, only Christ can liberate us from this snare. Faith is in Christ as the Mediator, who can reconcile us to God, despite our sinfulness. God is the destination and Christ is the path.
Despite the fact that faith is not restricted to a propositional statement, it does involve knowledge. In particular, faith is not pious ignorance and certainly not mediate, implicit faith in God through faith in the Church. In order to possess faith one must know that God is a merciful father, who we are reconciled with through Christ, and that Christ is given to us as righteousness, sanctification, and life. This faith rests on the foundation of God’s Word. Knowledge of Christ is gained through the Gospel. The Gospel does not tell us that God exists, we can know this through Nature. However, it does not tell us what his will is towards us, he is merciful and will grant us salvation Faith arises within us from God’s promise of Grace in Christ. It can only be known through Christ.
After having discussed his view of faith, Calvin begins to discuss other views on faith. He describes the difference between formed and unformed faith. Unformed faith is mere assent to propositions. Formed faith, in contrast, is piety and is of the heart and the spirit. Then, he argues that what is called unformed faith is only an illusion of faith; it is hypocrisy and vanity. True faith, formed faith, requires love.
Calvin maintains that sometimes even the reprobate have a feeling of faith. This faith is similar to that of the elect, but does not posses the same confidence. It is, rather, transitory. True faith, that of the elect, is steadfast.
Calvin now continues to discuss faith in greater detail. According to hum, it is a form of higher knowledge. It is a certain persuasion of that which cannot be grasped. It endows a certainty that is greater than anything else. It is a form of assurance, rather than mere comprehension. It is a full and fixed assurance that one is saved, that God’s goodness towards the individual is beyond a doubt. This assurance renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God’s judgment. It is an undoubted expectation of salvation.
Calvin does acknowledge, however, that one can still struggle with temptation while possessing faith. If one has faith, though, then even in one’s struggle with weakness and anxiety, one continues to press forward. In the midst of the temptation faith is always already victorious. This temptation in the midst of faith is a consequence of the fact that, despite one’s faith, one is always of the flesh. Because we are always of the flesh, we are always imperfect. Calvin insists, however, that, despite this imperfection, in our faith we still possess the requisite certainty that we will be redeemed.
After having claimed that the elect do not suffer from anxiety over whether they will be saved, Calvin argues that there is still a proper fear that they should have one they consider God’s wrath, which will cause them to take extra care not to commit the same offenses as the reprobate. This fear will also affect them when they envision where they would be if they were left to their own devices, without God’s gift of faith.
Calvin then discusses the indestructible certainty of faith. The elect do not alternate between certainty and despair, as if Christ was outside of them. Rather, Christ is so internal to us that even when we consider our own wretchedness we have hope in God’s salvation. While a certain type of fear, which is more like reverence, is necessary, fear of punishment cannot coexist with the faith and love of the elect.
Faith, according, to Calvin does not assure us of the earthly prosperity, but of God’s enduring favor. The goodness of this world is not allotted to the elect, rather they receive goodness in the life to come.
Our faith in being saved does not rest on any sense that we are worthy based on our works. Rather, is solely depends on God’s freely granted promise of mercy. This promise is fulfilled through Christ. It demonstrates God’s love for us. No one is loved by God apart from Christ.
While the promise that lies at the basis of faith is readily apparent in the Scripture, it does not cause faith to blossom unless it is affected by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must awaken us to the Word. This Holy Spirit is a gift to both the heart and the mind. Our own understanding is insufficient. When we are drawn by the Holy Spirit we transcend our understanding. It gives us a taste of the Kingdom of God. This taste causes us to have faith in things that we initially believed to be foolish. Thus, we cannot truly understand Scripture unless God illuminates our mind and heart. One again, Calvin explains how without the workings of the Holy Spirit man incapable of faith. Faith cannot be initiated by man and is a manifestation of God’s power. According, to Calvin momentary doubts cannot smother faith. As explained above, the faithful are sill tempted, though they always already have prevailed.
Calvin then discusses a number of Scholastic views on faith. He rejects their view that faith is established as moral certainty on the basis of good works. According to him, this would prevent man from ever gaining full assurance, which is necessary. He rejects the Catholic criticism that it is presumption to have full assurance of God’s Grace. He argues that it is attested to in Scripture that faith is given by the Holy Spirit. He also rejects the notion that even in faith there is uncertainty as to whether one will persevere in one’s faith. Rather, according to Calvin, faith is full assurance for today and the future.
Calvin finally discusses the relation between Hope and Faith. He maintains that faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the indication of things not appearing, evidence of things not yet seen. Additionally, Faith leads to Love. It is a taste of divine goodness. Faith and Hope belong together. Hope of eternal salvation always goes along with Faith in God/Christ. We expect that God will fulfill his promise. Faith believes and Hope expects. Hope supports faith by compensating for temptations during the time that God/Christ is not revealed.