Prelude to “Heresy of Calvinism II”

The completion of HoC2 was delayed by the frivolities of a weekend wedding (and some really good homebrews – – especially the cider ales – – that the lord and lady served), and a necessary Sunday afternoon with my dear friend Guillaume (and some outstanding Canadian imports).  But, I have cleared my decks for action (I have also been distracted by Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series), and shall have the promised piece  up by late this afternoon. Nonetheless, to whet everyone’s palette, please note the following quotes (all from Calvin’s Institutes, II.17). As you read them, keep in mind the simple words of our father among the Saints, St. Maximos the Confessor: “Virtues are natural things.”

The whole of Calvin’s II.17 is but six sub-chapters, and is worth looking at, but what I shall be sailing into are pretty much these waters.


I admit that were Christ opposed simply, and by himself, to the justice of God, there could be no room for merit, because there cannot be found in man a worth which could make God a debtor; nay, as Augustine says most truly, “The Savior, the man Christ Jesus, is himself the brightest illustration of predestination and grace: his character as such was not procured by any antecedent merit of works or faith in his human nature. Tell me, I pray, how that man, when assumed into unity of person by the Word, co-eternal with the Father, as the only begotten Son at God, could merit this [St. Augustine, On the gift of perseverance.”

And again from 2.17.1

Therefore when we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us. Hence the merit of Christ is inconsiderately opposed to the mercy of God. It is a well known rule, that principal and accessory are not incompatible, and therefore there is nothing to prevent the justification of man from being the gratuitous result of the mere mercy of God, and, at the same time, to prevent the merit of Christ from intervening in subordination to this mercy. The free favor of God is as fitly opposed to our works as is the obedience of Christ, both in their order: for Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God, but only inasmuch as he was destined to appease the wrath of God by his sacrifice, and wipe away our transgressions by his obedience: in one word, since the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God, (which provided this mode of salvation for us,) the latter is no less appropriately opposed to all righteousness of men than is the former.


By what services could a man merit to become the judge of the world, the head of angels, to obtain the supreme government of God, and become the residence of that majesty of which all the virtues of men and angels cannot attain one thousandth part? The solution is easy and complete. Paul is not speaking of the cause of Christ’s exaltation, but only pointing out a consequence of it by way of example to us. The meaning is not much different from that of another passage: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24: 26.)


  1. “Virtues are natural things.”

    Are virtues “things,” i.e. they are logoi in themselves which would make them to be intelligible “copies” of the intelligible protoypes or realities? The question is, are these co-eternal or created? If created, how could God be bound to the virtues?

  2. “The One Logos is the many logoi and the many logoi are the One Logos.” – St. Maximos the Confessor

    Virtues are natural in the sense that they conform to nature. Read St. Maximos’s Disputation with Pyrrhus for the context of the above quote.

  3. But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter.

    Calvin, Commentary on John.

    Is this language of life not being intrinsic to Christ’s Flesh something you would find problematic–as if it acts as if there were a time when Christ’s flesh either belonged to a man, or when Christ’s flesh was not human–as if the body were formed separately from the soul; or else as if life is not in the Word Himself, but only in the Divine Nature?

  4. And what the Hell was St. Augustine thinking:

    Tell me, I pray, how that man, when assumed into unity of person by the Word, co-eternal with the Father, as the only begotten Son of God, could merit this.

    Which man was it who was assumed into union with God?

  5. If virtue is “natural,” then did God become incarnate?

    Virtue are said to be natural and therefore equally in all men, as per St Maximus. But not all men exercise virtue equally.

    Virtue then implies progress, towards God as the Good. Progress implies the gnomic use of the will, which is acquired through habitual exercise.

    But this is the opposite of the Incarnation which is God’s movement towards the *sinner.* St Maximus said that Jesus lacked the gnomic will by virtue of his divinity.

    How is the virtuous movement consistent with the model of the Incarnation *and* Recapitulation?

  6. Jason,

    Christ became incarnate because in part virtue was natural. He is incarnate in his own image. The virtues are natural potencies and hence not in opposition to divine working as Calvin has it.

    Sure not all men exercise virtue to the same degree, but Maximus anticipates this in his disputation with Pyrrus saying that not all practice what is natural to the to the same degree.

    Progress simpliciter doesn’t imply the gnomic will. it only does so in a more narrow sense of achievement. Christ’s progress and growth was not an achievement since his hypostatic use and the natural power never uncemeted or became fixed by a process of personal habituation.

    If Maixmus says that Jesus lacked the gnomic mode of willing, do you wish to follow say Barth in asserting that Jesus did exercise the gnomic mode of willing? If not, what are you objectivity to? And Maximus doesn’t say it is by virtue of his divinity but by virtue of being a divine person.

    the virtuous movement is consistent with the recapitulation since it is still the divine person who is going through and doing over humanity. The lack of gnomic mode of willing doesn’t make the activity of the person in and through that nature any less a hypostatic activity, it just precludes the possibility of failure.

  7. Perry,

    Assuming virtues are natural potencies, and post-Fall nature per se is not opposed to grace, cur Deus Homo? If virtues are in all men equally, why the need to redeem nature, i.e. body and soul, will and intellect, mind and consciousness? Wouldn’t an Arian or Nestorian Christ had sufficed?

  8. That progress simpliciter implies the gnomic will in the narrow sense still implies that the gnomie as a mode of hypostatic employment must be “formalised” towards the Good. This requires ascetism to ensure the gnomie is habitually formed and hence gradually fixated towards the Good. There is therefore no parallel between Christ’s *exercise* of His will and the human. And yet Maximus wants to assert that Jesus experienced doubts, though not actually wavered, spontaneously willed self-preservation. This directly contradicts the the *telos* of the gnomic will which is towards *the* Good.

  9. The virtuous movement is consistent with recapitulation? As movement per se, yes, since recapitulation is “broader” than the Incarnation but as to its reality, how so? Recapitulation is no mere enactment as we all agree but the actual summation of all things in Christ. If Jesus has recapitulated all things, then the diastemic distance has been overcome as recapitulation through not identical to the Incarnation is rooted therein. So why still the need to move towards the Good? Doesn’t this ultimately implies that there are still some “things” Jesus Christ left out, that is did not recapitulate?

  10. Jason Loh,

    You asked given my view, why the incarnation? I’ve addressed that already elsewhere.

    No, an Arian Christ or a Nestorian one would not have sufficed for a number of reasons. First because neither of those options could have defeated death given the contingency of the Arian Christ and given the contingenyof the union in Nestorianism. Second, in the case of the latter, the work there is extrinsic to nature and not intrinsic to it, which is necessary to overcome death and recapitulate human nature effectively. Third, an Arian Christ could not deify and does not bear the intrinsic relationship to the divine energies and so could not make theosis possible.

    I don’t think that progress implies the gnomic will. If it did, even on your account, Christ would have a gnomic will. This would entail that Christ would be a human person. Christ going through all the stages of human development and making natural progress in that his human makes progress towards maturity and that without sin doesn’t imply a gnomic will. The divine person makes progress in that sense.

    There is a parallel between Christ’s exercise of his human will and ours. In fact it is far more than a parallel since Christ is at work in us and through us and with us so that the relationship is far more intimate than a mere parallel. This is in part why Christ is the minister of all the sacraments.
    Maximus asserts that Jesus experienced fear and ignorance because Scripture says so. You claim that his view entails a contradiction between the telos of the gnomic will towards the good and Christ’s experience of fear, ignorance etc. But this is not so for a couple of reasons. First, Christ has no gnomic will. Second, the gnomic will isn’t in creatures doesn’t have a telos towards the good, which is why sin is possible. Further the gomic will doesn’t have a telos and to think so betrays a confusion between person and nature.

    You write that recapitulation is broader than the incarnation. This is only true in terms of its scope of application. Christ’s recapitulation of all of humanity is in terms of the logos or nature of humanity and so this is why all are rendered immortal or in ever being. Their ever ill being or ever well being has hypostatic conditions on it, which is why our motion towards the good in recapitulation is necessary for ever well being. It turns on the distinction between person and nature. Jesus doesn’t recapitulate every human and angelic person qua person. If he did, we’d be right back to Origenism.

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