Some Misapprehensions Concerning Calvin -- By: O. T. Lanphear
BSac 53:211 (July 1896) p. 401
Some Misapprehensions Concerning Calvin
I. It is asserted that Calvin taught fatalism.
This error arises from the failure to observe that, in considering the being of God, Calvin excludes the order of time. This appears in his view of the divine omniscience, which is immutable. Time effects no changes in the divine mind and thought; such as, that God can be said to be wiser to-day than he was yesterday. He does not go to school to learn either by experience, reflection, or any evolution in time. If the contrary were true, then there would be a day somewhere in the past when God was ignorant, and then there was no God, for an ignorant God is no God. It is absurd, therefore, to admit the being of an omniscient God and assume at the same time that the knowledge of God is conditioned upon the order of time. His knowledge, therefore, must be an ever-present beholding of all things whatsoever that come to pass. As when, standing upon a high tower, one may look down upon a passing regiment, beholding” every man at once, so God from the height of his omniscience sees at once from all eternity to all eternity, all things whatsoever that come to pass in time: all events, all nations, empires, and individuals, the movement of every planet as well as the flutter of every sparrow.
BSac 53:211 (July 1896) p. 402
Accordingly, Calvin held that in the divine mind there is no succession of thought, no relations of thought such as that of antecedent and consequent. Therefore, he says, “When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things have ever been, and perpetually remain, before his eyes; so that to his knowledge there is nothing future or past, but all things are present; and present in such a manner, that he does not merely conceive of them from ideas formed in his mind, as things remembered by us appear to be present to our minds, but really beholds and sees them as if actually placed before him. And this foreknowledge extends to the whole world, and to all creatures.”1
In this view of foreknowledge, with the order of time excluded, there is no place for fatalism. Nor does this foreknowledge lay any necessity on God’s creatures, for Calvin says, “I will readily grant that mere foreknowledge lays no necessity on the creatures; though this is not universally admitted, for there are some who maintain it to be the actual cause of what comes to pass.”2 Gottschalk, living about the middle of the ninth century, considered all foreknowledge in God as creative, and was therefore amenable to the charge of fatalism, as Calvin was not.
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