Calvin’s Self-Identification As Lutheran

You can see, reader, that the man is pulled both this way and that. He wants to appear to be opening a battle against the whole party of the Lutherans, not against any individual member of it. But he cannot attack us all at the same time except as a united body. Grudgingly he is brought to acknowledge that there is agreement between us.

John Calvin, Bondage and Liberation of the Will, 30. (HT: Matthew Seufert)


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  1. Fascinating.

    In that vol, does Calvin go on to talk about a Liberation of the Will post-conversion; a sort of return to Adam’s posse peccare, posse non peccare?

    If so, I’d love the reference


    • No, he does not. He was an Augustinian. The point is that he used this language of himself decades after both Reformed and Lutherans had become aware of considerable differences. That he did should make it more difficult for some Reformed folk to set up the sort of antithesis between the Lutherans and the Reformed or at least between Calvin and Luther.

    • Thank you, Scott

      I had not appreciated that this was a later comment by Calvin and therefore all the more significant.

      1. As for the four stages (1 and 3 being posse peccare, posse non peccare), I thought this was in fact Augustine’s view picked up later by Thomas Boston?

      2. However, even if the “..and Liberation of the will’ does not intend to pick up on Augustine’s unhelpful ‘PP, PNP’, I take it that Calvin is referring to a liberation from bondage whereby God then (Phil 2 v13) wants/wills and does/works in us – rather than the Enlightenment, (even Existentialist) position of a liberation whereby some sort of ‘we’ ourselves want/will and do/work in ourselves? (I continue to fail to understand and accept this Enlightenment notion of an autonomous ‘we’)

      3. If I saw publishers in general recommend a book as giving the ‘fullest treatment of the relationship between the grace of God and the free will of humans’, I would assume the book’s conclusion would be the common conclusion of a tension/paradox between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. But I am sure Calvin does not end with this antinomy.

      4. The word ‘responsibility’ in English always seems to me an unhelpful word based as it is on the twin Enlightenment notions of guilt and ability, rather than guilt and inability/bondage. I therefore prefer the word ‘culpable’ to ‘responsible’ which fits better with the Roms 9 concept of ‘not fit for purpose’.

      5. Am I on the right lines?!

    • From the publisher:

      This volume provides Calvin’s fullest treatment of the relationship between the grace of God and the free will of humans. It offers insight into Calvin’s interpretations of the church fathers, especially Augustine, on the topics of grace and free will and contains Calvin’s answer to Pighius’s objection that preaching is unnecessary if salvation is by grace alone….

  2. Maybe Roman polemics against all Protestants as “Lutherans” had something to do with this?

    Further, Calvin had a high respect for Luther, and both Reformed and Lutherans shared an understanding of justification as a forensic act.

    • Kepha,

      Yes, this is just right. Rome did refer to all Protestants as “Lutherans” but by the second half of the century they were aware of distinctions in views and nomenclature between the parties. For the purposes of this debate Calvin could identify himself as a Lutheran—which may say something about where he thought all the Protestants stood relative to Pighius but it says something about his self-consciousness. He didn’t see himself as fundamentally different from Luther and certainly not different in the way that some have tried to suggest. Calvin rarely criticized Luther and when he did it was mainly regarding the latter’s vehemence on the nature of Christ’s presence in the Supper.

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