“In the Crucifixion of Messias necessity and freedom had mutually crucified each other, and both had risen again”

To say that Calvin was influenced by Augustine is a meiosis; Augustine is invoked on almost every page of the great Institutes. He says of him, in speaking of the great doctrine of Election, “I need no words but his,” and again, “I shall not hesitate to confess with Augustine: ‘The Will of God is the necessity of things.” It was this complete necessity which the genius of Calvin attempted to restore as the only basis of the universal Church. He desired to attribute all initiative to God, and to show that all things existed only according to the will of that initiative. “Calvinism asks, with Lutheranism, that most pregnant of all questions : what shall I do to be saved? and answers it as Lutheranism answers it. But the great question that presses upon it is, How shall God be glorified?” [Benja­min Warfield]. How but by acknowledging that in him alone is all decision? in him alone all necessity? in him alone all destination? He asserts, and we can but consent; we do it of necessity and yet voluntarily. We have chosen necessity, and that necessity elects as it will, some to salvation, some to damnation.

Augustine had said almost as much, and if it were not for Augustine’s sweep of style even the “almost” would be exaggerated. But his great phrases soar above the very definitions they carry; Calvin quotes from him “We do not find grace by liberty, but liberty by grace.” All the psychological doctors of the Mystical Way had assented. Calvin attempted to formulate that experience. But no such dogma has ever been satisfactory to the Church that does not involve free lives mutually co-inhering, and necessity and freedom (dare one say?) mutually co-inhering. In the Crucifixion of Messias necessity and freedom had mutually crucified each other, and both (as if in an exchanged life) had risen again. Freedom existed then because it must; necessity because it could. But Calvin crucified Adam upon Jesus; “Men are to be taught indeed that the Divine Benignity is free to all who seek it, without any exception.” But “none begin to seek it but those who have been inspired by the Divine Grace.” All initiative is from God.

Men have not, for the most part, been able to bear the terrible paradox of Calvin, and they have pretended that Calvinism is (intellectually) much easier than it is. They have in fact (though generally from mean motives of ignorance and dislike) brought it under the condemning sentence of Loyola, “We ought not to speak of grace at such length and so vehemently as to give rise to that poisonous teaching which takes away free will.” But then Ignatius had a great advantage; he did not conceive himself to be laying down the first principles of the Christian religion, but only founding an Order. He was no Calvin or Aquinas. He only sought to teach the soul to discover the personal will in its moment of destruction; he only immolated on a superhuman individual devotion the glory of the Renascence. He presumed man’s personal freewill in heaven but he enlisted his followers to the loss of it on earth; so much so that the ecclesiastical authorities checked and modified the more extreme of his phrases. The Constitution of his Society suggested a subordination to superiors of a more utter kind than Rome was prepared to allow. Even the famous phrase about black and white – “we ought always to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so define it” – may allow of some discussion, though it is difficult to see in the end what other conclusion can be formally reached. What is clear is that here also contrition, election, annihilation, were living states. Newman defined the chief characteristic of Ignatius to be “prudence” – intelligence of the spirit. He, more than Calvin, exhibited (if he did not more believe) the doctrine of exchange.

Charles Williams

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1 Response to “In the Crucifixion of Messias necessity and freedom had mutually crucified each other, and both had risen again”

  1. I have this book in my to-read pile, but it has got some critical contenders first (Moltman, Davidman’s “Smoke on the Mountain,” St. A on the Incarnation, and Michael Gorman’s corpus). But the first line is one of my great takeaways from reading the Institutes (though I’m only 3/4 of the way done–in the spicy bits about predestination and hell). I’m glad I had at least this takeaway–that Calvin is restoring Augustine–for I haven’t had many others.

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