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Calvinism

from ENTRIES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2016

Theo Verbeek
Affiliation:
Universiteit Utrecht
Lawrence Nolan
Affiliation:
California State University, Long Beach
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Summary

Calvinism is the Protestant theological tradition that goes back to Jean Calvin (1509–64). Calvinism presents itself both as a more radical version of the theology of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and as a reaction to the “Radical Reformation” of the Anabaptists. In his theology, Calvin teaches the total depravity of man, unconditional predestination (man can do nothing to secure salvation), limited atonement (the work of redemption is meant for the elect only), irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved). Against the Radical Reformation, Calvinism reintroduced a certain hierarchical structure and an emphasis on the “scientific” (philological, historical, and philosophical) aspects of theology. Although, therefore, human reason should be aware of its inherent limitations (a consequence of the Fall), it would play a legitimate role in the interpretation of scripture.

The relation that Calvinism bears to Descartes’ philosophy is complex. The first confrontation between Calvinist theology and Cartesian philosophy took place in the United Provinces barely twenty years after the Synod of Dordrecht (1619) made an end to the controversy between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants. Remonstrants believed that, as far as predestination is concerned, the testimony of scripture was inconclusive, so it should be a free issue. Contra-Remonstrants (whose view the Synod proclaimed to be the orthodox view) found the question too important to be left undecided and believed that on the basis of scripture and with the help of philosophy and logic the conclusion that there is unconditional predestination was inevitable. As a result, orthodox theology came to depend on Scholasticism. Moreover, the second article of the Dutch Confession stipulates that, although the best way to know God is by reading scripture, God's power and will can to a certain extent be known from nature. Finally, even though in this view reason is a gift of God, one should not rely too much on it and always confront its results with the evidence of the senses and, in case of a conflict with biblical evidence, be content with what was called “learned ignorance.”

By openly rejecting the Scholastic tradition, by breaking with common sense through systematic doubt, and by emphasizing the power of reason over and against the senses, Cartesian philosophy constituted an immediate threat to Orthodox theology (see Voetius, Gysbertus).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Goudriaan, Aza. 1999. Philosophische Gotteserkenntnis bei Suárez und Descartes im Zusammenhang mit der Niederländischen Reformierten Theologie und Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
Van Ruler, J. A. 1995. The Crisis of Causality: Voetius and Descartes on God, Nature and Change. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
Verbeek, Theo. 1992. Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy (1637–1650). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar

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  • Calvinism
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.038
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  • Calvinism
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.038
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Calvinism
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.038
Available formats
×