Augustinianism in Calvin and Bonaventure -- By: Gordon R. Payne

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 44:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: Augustinianism in Calvin and Bonaventure
Author: Gordon R. Payne


Augustinianism in Calvin and Bonaventure

Gordon R. Payne

How is John Calvin to be understood?1 Is he to be interpreted on the basis of a single doctrine, such as predestination or sanctification, from which his theology is ordered or deduced? Is he to be considered as a precursor of a later philosophy such as Neo-Kantianism or later theologies such as those of Barth and Brunner? Even more fundamental, is the understanding of Calvin to be controlled by the application of categories of contemporary thought? Is Karl Barth right, and must Calvin be interpreted on the basis of Barth’s “idea that theology is determined by its object”?2 even though it reduces Calvin’s teaching to an attempt to “speak about an object which is not an object”?3 If the efforts of interpreters of Calvin, “who are led to study Calvin in the light of contemporary emphases,”4 are reduced to “endeavors to explain the contradictoriness of Calvin’s theology by reference to its object,”5 must that result be considered a “solution”6 to the problem of the interpretation of Calvin? Is this the basis on which Herman Webber’s “psychological presuppositions about schizophrenia in a Frenchman”7 can be refuted?

Before indicating the religious and philosophical basis on which Calvin must be read, a few preliminary observations

frequently overlooked are in order. John Calvin was not an innovator or restorationist—he was a reformer. On the basis of his quotations alone, he can be proven to have distinguished between the Catholic Church and the church of Trent, It is a sad fact that little attention has been paid to Calvin’s “library.” A large number of his over 2,000 quotations from Augustine, for instance, are not located in Augustine’s writings. No attempt has ever been made to locate allusions to other fathers and the schoolmen as a necessary aid to understanding and interpretation. Second, Calvin must be read in the light of his exegetical and philosophical heritage. He cannot be understood in terms of Kantianism and the critical devaluation of the Scriptures. Least of all is he to be understood in terms of the irrationality of the “new Hermeneutics.”

Where, then, is Calvin to be located theologically and philosophically? The answer is that he is the heir and follower of the Augustinian tradition flowing from Augustine through Anselm of Ca...

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