John Calvin on the Studying of Greek Philosophers de Anima

I, indeed, agree that the things they [the philosophers] teach [about the soul] are true, not only enjoyable, but also profitable to learn, and skillfully assembled by them.  And I do not forbid those who are desirous of learning to study them. Therefore I admit in the first place that there are five senses, which Plato preferred to call organs, by which all objects are presented to common sense, as a sort of receptacle.  There follows fantasy, which distinguishes those things which have been apprehended by common sense; then reason, which embraces universal judgment; finally understanding, which in intent and quiet study contemplates what reason discursively ponders. Similarly, to understanding, reason, and fantasy (the three cognitive faculties of the soul) correspond three appetitive faculties: will, whose functions consist in striving after what understanding and reason present; the capacity for anger, which seizes upon what is offered to it by reason and fantasy; the capacity to desire inordinately, which apprehends what is set before it by fantasy and sense. (Institutes, I.XV.6.)

3 thoughts on “John Calvin on the Studying of Greek Philosophers de Anima

  1. Every time I read through Calvin that passage used to unsettle me. I would then make it okay by saying, “Well, what Calvin meant to say was that given their own terms of rationality, they couldn’t account for whatever they just said, but since we have the Christian worldview it’s all good.”

    I still appreciate a lot of the *BASICS* CVT taught me. But I just don’t think in “worldview terms” anymore. Maybe it’s because I am sloppy and lazy since I don’t really study Kant like I kind of used to.

    But back to the post at hand, didn’t Calvin define the imago dei as the soul?

  2. Indeed, Tim. : )

    Jacob, Calvin did think the imago Dei is the soul properly speaking. He quotes Ovid to explain this: “while all other living things being bent over to look earthward, man has been given a face uplifted, bidden to gaze heavenward and to raise his countenance to the stars.” (quoted in the Institutes, I.XV.3.)

    He says that Osiander’s claim that the image of God extends to both the body and the soul “mingles heaven and earth.” Calvin says that the soul is nobler than the body because it is immortal, it is the seat of the conscience, and with it we “conceive the invisible God and the angels, something the body can by no means do.” (Ibid.) In fact the mind is so magnificently crafted that we must say that “something divine has been grafted upon it.”

    In numerous places Calvin refers to man’s material part as “the prison house of the body” – very Platonic, indeed. However, he does regard the body as created in God’s likeness in some sense. He says, “I do not deny, indeed, that our outward form, in so far as it distinguishes and separates us from brute animals, at the same time more closely joins us to God.” (Ibid.) He says that the true image of God in man is spiritual, but that this spiritual part “glows in these outward marks” of the body.

    This fits into Calvin’s general signum/res distinction. What is outward is merely a sign of the reality beneath. Yet, this does not diminish the efficacy of the sign. The soul shining through the body gives form and being to the body, therefore giving it an inherent value that it would not have by itself, and that it did not have per se for the Manicheans.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s