Calvin: God’s Accommodation No License For Images

God, indeed, from time to time showed the presence of his divine majesty by definite signs, so that he might be said to be looked upon face to face. But all the signs that he ever gave forth aptly conformed to his plan of teaching and at the same time clearly told men of his incomprehensible essence. For clouds and smoke and flame [Deuteronomy 4:11], although they were symbols of heavenly glory, restrained the minds of all, like a bridle placed on them, from attempting to penetrate too deeply. Therefore Moses, to whom, nevertheless, God revealed himself more intimately than to the others [Exodus 33:11], did not succeed by prayers in beholding that face; but he received the answer that man is not able to bear such great brightness [Exodus 33:20]. The Holy Spirit appeared under the likeness of a dove [Matthew 3:16]. Since, however, he vanished at once, who does not see that by one moment’s symbol the faithful were admonished to believe the Spirit to be invisible in order that, content with his power and grace, they might seek no outward representation for themselves? For the fact that God from time to time appeared in the form of a man was the prelude to his future revelation in Christ. Therefore the Jews were absolutely forbidden so to abuse this pretext as to set up for themselves a symbol of deity in human form.

Calvin | Institutes (1559; Battles edition), 1.11.3.


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  1. This quote is one more golden example of why, even as I continue to read other reformed writers, I keep coming back to learn of Calvin.

  2. God reserves to Himself exclusively the authority to represent Himself bodily or visibly. He has done so most profoundly and ultimately in the incarnation of God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has not by this glorious act relinquished His exclusive authority, but consummately confirmed it. (Colossians 2.9-10)

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