The Theme of Kenosis in the Tract on the Person of Jesus Christ in Calvin’s Institutes


Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, Amsterdam

‘The abasement of the flesh was like a veil, by which the divine majesty was concealed’

– The Theme of kenosis in the tract on the Person of Jesus Christ in Calvin’s Institutes

The main part of this paper will deal with John Calvin’s doctrine of ‘The Person of the Mediator’ in the polemic passages of the last edition of his Institutes of 1559, to identify his idea of kenosis or ‘the concealment of divine Majesty’. To understand the context of these passages, we will distinguish the plan of the last draft of the Institutes against the background of the treatment of Christology in the former editions. Therewith, on a few occasions we will try to receive some clarifications by the elaboration of his proposals by theologians of Post-Reformation Orthodoxy. And of course, on some junctions of our journey, Karl Barth will pass, too.

[[ The two diagrams on ‘The Second Part of the Explication of the Apostles’ Creed in the Institutes of 1539′ and on Institutes 1559, Book II, Chapters xii-xvii, are not taken over here ]]

  1. Faith in Jesus Christ in the second edition of the Institutes of 1539

Initially, the Christianae Religionis Institutio, the work with which Calvin acquired some fame as an author in 1536, had the character of an account of the reformational view on faith in the shape of a Catechism for interested adults. The ground plan is that of the Lutheran distinction of Law and (in line with the Apostle Paul, better not to say here ‘Gospel’, in the first instance, but:) Faith. With his Law God invites humanity ‘to discard all pride, being aware of its own poverty, reject itself completely and deem itself totally worthless’, and therewith ‘begins to taste the sweetness of God’s mercy in Christ’.[1] The knowledge of Christ, then, is received by faith. But when you ask, ‘what our faith must behold and consider in Christ in order to be confirmed’, – as Calvin contends in the sharper draft of his Catechism for the city of Geneva of 1537, partly an extract of his first Institutes –, ‘it is explained in what is called the Symbol (Creed), that is, in what way Christ became for us wisdom from the Father, and redemption, and life, and righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30)’.[2] And in the second edition of the Institutes of 1539, he clarifies: ‘After having explained the contents and the substance of the Creed, it will be easier to recognize its characteristics, like in a painting (Latin version: velut in iconica tabula). Thus, the Apostles’ Creed will assume for us the place of such a painting, because it demonstrates in a few words the entire economyof salvation bit by bit without omitting even the smallest part’.[3]

Generally, the second (Strasbourg) edition of the Institutes (1539) is known from its methodical shift from the catechetic to the more systematic and academic disposition of the Loci Communes, following the example of Melanchthon (11521, 21535).[4] However, in the explanation of the extensive second part of the Creed, Calvin, despite his acute attention to technical theological questions, seems rather to strengthen the character of explication of his reflections. He unfolds the whole of his Christological insights and proposals under the headings of the Apostles’ Creed. In this way, Calvin’s exclusive treatment of the reasons for, and the way of the incarnation, has been fully identified with the article of the conception by the Holy Spirit and the birth from the Virgin Mary.

Two points of evaluation

Already here, I wish to make two remarks. The first one is inspired by the explanation of the virgin Birth by Karl Barth. In Church Dogmatics I/2, Barth distinguishes between the res (thing) of the incarnation and the signum (sign) of the virgin birth (and then also between the divine mystery and the miracle), warning not to identify nor to separate these two dimensions.[5] This distinction was not yet necessary in the days of Calvin with their precritical reading of the Bible. But if we should resolve to follow Calvin’s example now, we must reflect on the question whether the surprising and wonderful legend in some gospels can bear the whole weight of the doctrine of the incarnation of the eternal Son.

A second remark is caused by an observation of Bruce McCormack in his masterly book The Humility of the Eternal Son. McCormack appeals to exegetical studies, arguing how, mainly in the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit is said by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:35) to be the ‘agent’ of the miraculous conception of Jesus and doing what would later be done in the church’s dogma by the concept of the ‘hypostatic union’ – but that at the same time the language, in which Jesus is said to be ‘led’ and ‘driven’ by the Spirit is ‘much too strong to allow space for an instrumentalization of the Jesus by the Logos as occurred in ancient Christologies.’[6].

Earlier, in the Roman congregation of the late second Century where the initial Roman baptismal Creed (the oldest source for the so-called Apostles’ Creed) originated, forms of Spirit-Christology were widespread. At the same time, although Logos-theories were rather an interest of more sophisticated reflection, several theologians succeeded in combining both interests.[7] In this way, Justin could declare: ‘It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the first-born of God, as the prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power’.[8] But it appeared to be difficult, in the development of trinitarian reflection, to maintain such an identification of Spirit and Word.

Calvin himself doesn’t offer any clarification, but later Reformed theologians will try to do it. We can read, for instance, the following effort of Antonius Thysius in his disputation on the incarnation (included in the Leyden textbook of 1625 as number 25). First, he stresses that the expression ‘the Word was made flesh’ of John 1:14 has a passive sense (thesis 5). When we take it in an active sense (thesis 6 continues), it is the work of God. After arguing that the incarnation is a divine work and activity (opus et operatio) outside of himself (ad extra) and common to the whole Trinity, Thysius continues:

‘However, the order and the rank [within the Trinity] is kept in the case of the actions, as it is in the case of the divine persons. It happens in such a way that the source of the action (fons actionis) comes from the Father, and consequently relates to him. The means (medium) of the action lies in the Son, who is the “wisdom of the Father”, while the outcome (terminus) is with the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as he is the strength and power of God most high, through whom the action is carried out. And we should understand it in this way both regarding the decree and the work itself. And as far as the outcome of the incarnation is concerned, the word is used especially of the Holy Spirit (Mat. 1:18.20; Luke 1:35); therefore, in the Creed it says, “conceived by the Holy Spirit”.’[9]

It is typically Reformed – and it is also found in Calvin[10] – to stress that the incarnation as an opus ad extra is founded in an eternal decree of God. Neither the Son nor the Spirit are directly to be seen as subjects of the action of the fulfilment of the decree in a direct way. The Son functions as the means by which the Trinity can fulfil it in a wise way, and the Spirit by its strength provides its outcome. I don’t conceive this proposal as a final solution, but it seems to discern the question, and it leaves room for further elaboration. The proposal of McCormack, to consider the Holy Spirit as the Power, by which the Logos – in his ‘wisdom’, Thysius would say – could practise a ‘receptivity’ – better than the ‘passivity’ (according to the grammatical passive sense), about which Thysius is talking – in relation to his human ‘nature’, could be seen as such an elaboration.[11]

  1. The (Latin) Institutes of 1559 (and the French one of 1560)

In the winter 1558-1559, tormented by ‘the quartan fever’,[12] Calvin took his scissors, rearranged the edition in hand of 1554, and extended it with a range of additions.[13] The overall structure was provided by the Apostles’ Creed (as divided in four parts: Father – Son – Holy Spirit – and Church), but in the explanation of the Second Part of the Creed (the Part on the Son) this order just was drawn back. The arrangement of the Second Book was a renewal. In the first edition of the Institutes of 1536, as has been said before, the basic plan had been that of the Lutheran distinction of Law and Gospel. But now, given the need that ‘the fallen human being (II.i-v) ought to seek redemption in Christ’ (, Law (II.vii-viii) and Gospel (II.xii-xvii), documented by the Old and the New Testament (II.ix-xi), together give testimony to Christ. Speaking of Christ (II.xii-xvii), the first point of interest will be then, that ‘our most merciful Father decreed what was best for us’.[14]

 In this way, the ordo docendi of the locus attains a rather systematic-theological character. With his scissors, Calvin places from the former Chapter 7,8-10 to II.xii.1-3: cur deus homo?; 7,11-12 arrives at II.xiii.1-2: on the true being human of Christ; and 7,13-16 at II.xiv.1-4: on the elements of the chalcedonic definition. That means, that the materials that before belonged to the explanation of the conception by the Holy Spirit and the birth from the virgin Mary, now structure the three Chapters on, scholastically said, the person of the Mediator. At the same time, the Virgin Birth almost lost its character as subdivision of the explicatio Symboli. There remains only interest in the ‘true substance’ of the flesh, that his mother donated to Jesus Christ (Chap. II.xiii), but the remaining catechetical material (1539: 7,17) has been removed now.[15] Earlier we asked: ‘How justified Calvin was in making the Creed’s article on Christ’s conception and birth bear the whole weight of the doctrine of the incarnation?’ But now, the other way round, apparently the reference to the same article can also disappear. That’s a strange affair.

     Chapter II.xv is a revision of the former explanation of the title Christ – in his threefold unction (the former sections 7,2-5) – the theme that formerly dominated the whole Christological part, and that remains important, although now the ‘person’ must seem to be treated prior to the ‘work’. Chapter II.xvi begins with the former explanation of the name of Jesus as ‘Redeemer’ (7,1), followed by the former explication of the Symbol in the order of (in terms of reformational doctrine) the ‘two states’: in II.xvi.2-12 (7,19-29) the humiliation, and in II.xvi.13-19 (7,30-37) the exaltation. How Calvin in the whole of this design prepares the way for Reformed Orthodoxy, we can recognize when we compare Inst. II.12-16 with the Compendium of Christian Theology of Johannes Wollebius, Basel 1626, Cap. xvi: The Person of Christ God-and-Man (cf. Inst. II.xii-xiv), Cap. xvii: The Meditorial Office of Christ (Cf. Inst. II.xv) and Cap. xviii-xix: Christ’s State of Exaninition and of Exaltation (Inst. II.xvi).[16]

 In the whole complex, Calvin adds results of his scriptural research[17] as well as his reading of the Fathers of the Church from the period of the ecumenical councils. Most of the sections that are added in this last edition, however, present the fruits of several debates Calvin was involved in during the preceding years, namely with Andreas Osiander (II.xii.4-7), Menno Simons (II.xiii.3-4), Michael Servet and Giorgio Biandrata (II.xiv.5-8), Sebastian Castellio (II.xvi.10)[18] and Laelio Sozzini (the whole of the appendix in II.xvii) respectively.

Announcement of the following sections

In the following, I want to look to Calvins position in these debates, expecting clarification from that point-of-view to the specificity of his thinking on kenosis. Therewith, I will limit myself to the debates in the three chapters on the person of the Mediator (II.xii-xiv). Of course, the debates that are documented in the three chapters on Christ’s work (II.xv-xvii) have their effects on Calvin’s thinking on the person, but I fear I must choose here. To indicate the subject of these debates in advance shortly: from his reaction on the proposals of Osiander we may experience how strongly Calvin resisted cosmological speculation on the relationship of divinity and humanity as such, as if he was inoculated against some types of idealism or theosophy; from his comments on Menno we learn his emphasis of the concrete history of Jesus Christ (in its Israelite context); from his allergy to Servet his repugnance against any immediate – that is: any notion of ‘concealment’ of the divine majesty lacking – ecstasy; and from his answers to the challenge of the initially searching soul of Biandrata, we may discover his thoughts on the question to what extent the humanity of the incarnated Son does (or does not) effect his divinity as the eternal Son, not only before the assumption of the flesh, but also once, at the end of salvation history.[19]

II.1 Andreas Osiander (II.xii.4-7)

Calvin met the Lutheran theologian Osiander (1498-1552) at a conference in Worms (1541), where they did not make a positive impression on one another. Some of the publications of Osiander would eventually reach Calvin’s study. The clear title, according to which Christ would still have become man even if no means of redeeming humankind had been needed, provoked him into disputing it, albeit after the death of their author.[20] Calvin remarks that this question earlier had been only lightly touched on by a few persons,[21] but that it received a strongly speculative interest here. Because Christ as human being had been foreknown in the mind of God, Osiander asserts, he was the pattern to which men were formed.[22] When the God-and-man[23] is been said to be our Righteousness, that can only be counted for his divine nature; only in this respect, he can be Mediator for human beings, because the aim of the incarnation is the divinisation of mankind, the divine will to gather humanity into his heavenly life. For this humanity, therefore, incarnation is anyhow a necessity on anthropological grounds.[24] One cannot say that this position of Osiander is typical for an overall Lutheran Christology, for it was controversial in his own environment, too. Nevertheless, one can observe that it belongs to the prehistory of speculation on a synthesis of divinity and humanity as such in later German idealism, as well to the prehistory of a theosophical interest in a process that would lead to a mystical penetration of humanity by divine power. And you can also observe that a student of Calvin can be inoculated against both tendencies, that would influence kenotic Christology in the nineteenth Century. For Calvin, in his humanistic mood, strongly repudiates any ontological speculation beyond the soteriological Scriptural witness about Christ, who at his cross had redeemed who at his cross had redeemed the condemned, in an incarnation supposed to be for all creatures, regardless of their obedience. Calvin declares that whoever desires to know more, apparently is ‘not content with this very Christ, who was given to us as the price of our redemption’.[25

At the same time, Calvin acknowledges that the Mediatorship of Christ is not limited to redemption. Already in the state of integrity Christ had been the head of angels and human beings.[26] Even if man had remained free from all stain, his condition would have been too lowly for him to reach the Majesty of God without a Mediator.[27] For Osiander, Christ is ‘the firstborn of all creation’ (Col. 1:15) as the logos incarnatus, but Calvin makes a distinction here. Christ is the Mediator of Creation as the eternal Son, in the ‘subsistence’[28] of the Word, always ‘being with God’ (John 1:1), who reveals the divine life, that otherwise should have remained hidden, while only after the fall of Adam he would become the Mediator of Redemption. The duality in the structure of the Institutes of 1559 – firstly ‘The Knowledge of God the Creator’ (Book I) and afterwards ‘The Knowledge of God the Redeemer’ (against the background of the Fall; Book II), with the historicizing order: Creation – Fall – Redemption – finds here its expression. Therefore, with respect to the passage in the Letter to the Colossians, quoted by Osiander, Calvin explains: ‘The apostle in one short passage sets forth two things to be considered: (1) “through the Son all things have been created,”, that he may rule over the angels [Col. 1:16]; (2) he was made man that he might begin to be our Redeemer [Col. 1:14]’. [29] One can question, in my opinion, whether this ‘parallel’ order corresponds with the composition by the author of the Epistle.[30] We can find here a hymn with two stanzas, both beginning with the expression ‘He is’ (hos estin, vs. 15; vs. 18b). The second stanza, in accordance with the context of the hymn (vss. 12-14), speaks of redemption (vs. 14) and reconciliation (vs. 20). The first stanza, when read independently (except vs. 18a), could have been conceived as a Hellenistic-Jewish hymn on the Mediator of Creation. But through the context, the (pseudo-)Pauline author seems to intervene in this general consideration, through which the ‘first born of Creation’ has been identified with the ‘firstborn from the dead’, and therefore with Jesus Christ. In addition, one can remark that ‘the thrones or dominions or rulers or powers’ of verse 16 not only are ‘angels’ in general, but rather ideological and political powers that have been overcome by the dominion of Christ.[31] In short: the Pauline order, in the way it was understood by Karl Barth, too,[32] seems to be an order from Christ as the Head of his Church to the same Christ in his cosmic Rule. There are some indications, that also for Calvin the history of the incarnated Christ gave some colouring to the same Christ as the Mediator of Creation.[33]  If we would limit ourselves with Calvin to the dual structure of the two dimensions of the Mediation, it would become difficult to recognize the preparation of what McCormack proposed to be the ‘ontological receptivity’ of the eternal Logos already in that Logos before incarnation. In addition, I mention Calvin’s exegesis, that could already be found in the Institutes of 1536 and that he maintained in the following editions (1559: II.xiv.2): ‘What Christ said about himself – “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) – was far removed from his humanity;’ ‘he is claiming for himself here what is (exclusively) proper to his divinity’. [34] In contrast, Karl Barth says: ‘This verse, which reaches back to the Prologue [of the Gospel], although it certainly speaks of the eternal Logos, speaks also of the man Jesus’.[35] Therefore, in my view, although we must agree with Calvin in his criticism of Osiander, his doctrine of the Mediator of Creation can be debated.

II.2 Menno Simons (II.xiii.3-4)

In the Low Countries, the beginning of the reformational movement could be found in groups of anabaptists. In a later stage, the beginnings of Reformed Churches were characterized by repeated debates with this movement. John à Lasco disputed with the elder Menno Simons (1496-1561) on their views on the incarnation, and Calvin had been informed about that dispute in 1554 at the latest. In 1556 Marten Micron makes a report of similar disputes in East Frisia, which from his side was commented by Menno,[36] and asks for the help of Calvin (and of Bullinger) in ordering the arguments. Calvin indeed wrote a letter to Micron,[37] and in 1559 he inserts from this earlier work twenty quotations, containing his rebuttal of arguments and of exegetical considerations from Menno, in the thirteenth Chapter of Institutes Book II.

Already in 1539, the polemics against the thesis that Christ’s body was endowed with heavenly flesh – a thesis identified by Calvin as an inheritance from the Manichees[38] – were meant to address anabaptist groups. Instead, Calvin stresses that the flesh that Christ received from the virgin Mary made him Son of David, Son of Abraham (Mat. 1:1; Rom. 1:3).[39] That is an important element of our subject: when the incarnation concerns the real history of Jesus, the context and the past of this history, i.e., the history of Israel, is also involved! In this connection, Calvin inserts his explanations of Philippians 2:7 out of his Commentary of 1548, according to which being made ‘in the likeness of men’ does not mean that he took only seemingly a body – as the Neo-Marcionites, thus the anabaptists should teach – and that Erasmus is right in defending a ‘tropological’, ethical reading of the humiliation and the obedience of Christ, in which he acts as a real human being, without being changed in his divinity.[40] The doctrine of the ‘heavenly flesh’ tries to escape the solidarity of Christ with the seed of Adam, that was subjected to original sin. Its adherents suggest that in this way, the impious would be Christ’s brethren. However, ‘when we say that Christ was made man that he might make us children of God, this expression does not extend to all men; for faith intervenes, to engraft us spiritually in the body of Christ’. [41] Menno asserts that Christ has not been made by woman (ex muliere), but only from woman (per mulierem), as if Matthew would describe the virgin as a channel through which Christ flowed. Although Calvin avoids a non-theological, medical discussion, he does not adhere, as Menno does, to the conservative view of the non-contribution of ‘seedless’ womanly sexuality in the growth of an embryo.[42] Theologically, Calvin stresses that Christ ‘was made free from all stain because he was sanctified by the Spirit’, with the effect that ‘the generation might be pure and undefiled as would have been true before Adam’s fall’ – an assertion that does not exclude that Christ could have been a sinner in his life.[43] Therefore, the accusation that ‘if the Word of God became flesh, then he was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body’, is ‘mere impudence’. And to prove that – apparently against an anabaptist, not primarily against a Lutheran accusation –, at the end of the last section Calvin writes his famous sentences on the existence of the eternal Son of God extra carnem also during his going about the earth.[44]

 Because since the Enlightenment, the presupposition existed that Mennonites didn’t have any interest in doctrinal questions, it lasted until the second half of the twentieth Century, until the (what we now call) ‘Melchiorite-Mennist’ doctrine of the Incarnation seriously has been studied.[45] The doctrine had been proposed by Melchior Hoffman, a furrier, and a Lutheran lay preacher, [46] who around 1533 had been interrogated (and after that imprisoned till his death) by the reformational authorities in Strasbourg. It appears that the gnostic reminiscences are only partly helpful to characterize his doctrine. In many respects, Hoffman learned from the Lutheran teaching he received. The relation to Christ, the mediator and reconciler, the source of universal grace and ethical perfection, a relation that is mediated by faith alone, is the centre of his theology. The remark of Calvin, that faith intervenes, to engraft us in the body of Christ, could have been endorsed by him. In that sense, he differs significantly from spiritualistic currents of his time. Reconciliation, satisfaction, and justification are real events, as fulfilled by Christ during his life and at his cross, and do not evaporate in the new spiritual reality of our being with Him. At the same time, it is true that the incarnation of the eternal Son, that can be identified with the gift of the ‘bread from heaven’ of John 6, has no ground in the history of humankind since Adam’s fall. It is a total renewal, a ’new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17), an opening of the gate to the Kingdom of God (that will appear very soon!), and an incitement to the missionary work of the community of the reborn brothers and sisters. It is no coincidence that a disciple of Hoffman, Bernhard Rothmann, would play an important role during the violent and extremist revolutionary Münster experiment of 1534. Afterwards, Menno regrouped the anabaptist movement on a rather pacifistic foundation. Nevertheless, he defended Hoffman’s doctrine of incarnation, concentrating on the being born again as a community ‘without a spot or wrinkle’ (Eph. 5:27), increasingly separated from the ‘world’. Menno hesitates, during the several disputes especially with the Reformed, to clarify in more detail what could be meant with ‘heavenly flesh’, where it comes from etc. At the same time, it had been fixed for him, that the incarnated Son in his pureness never had been touched by any splinter of the world of sin.

It seems clear to me, that also this newly reconstructed, more reformational, and less spiritualistic, Melchioristic-Mennist doctrine would not have convinced Calvin. For example, the lack of any notion of a justification of the godless in it, would have remained unacceptable to him. Nevertheless, I see at least two questions to think through in the unfolding of our argument. Firstly, we saw that Calvin against Osiander rejected all speculation beyond the Biblical witness. But in refusing speculation, he is also in danger to reproduce classical doctrine that perhaps never had been ‘biblical’. Bruce McCormack, among others, mentions in this respect the presupposition of divine impassibility. Well then, the adherents of the (monothelitistic) Mennist doctrine asserted, that for the eternal, only begotten Son incarnation must have implied that the perfect God had been made smaller, weakened, and changed.[47] Because of the mystery of divine love, reconciliation in accordance with Philippians 2 and John 6 must have implied such a kenosis, in which the eternal Son himself had suffered and has died for our sins. Calvin resisted such considerations with his invoking Erasmus’s stressing of the ethical tendency of Philippians 2:7-8, but has he said enough about the eternal Son with this defence? Secondly, in the discussion on Calvin’s dispute with Osiander, we contrasted ‘ontological’ and ‘soteriological’ intentions. Now, it is clear, that the Mennist current brings pressure to bear upon the Reformed understanding of salvation. For them, salvation is being born again, sanctification besides justification. And therefore, we must redefine ‘soteriology’ in the sense of the main theme of the third Book of the Institutes of 1559, i.e., as duplex gratia.[48] In this sense, it is said in the Netherlands that a Reformed believer, different from the Lutheran, remains a twin-brother / a twin-sister of the Mennonite.[49]

II.3 Michael Servet (II.xiv.5-8)

It is not necessary to repeat here the well-known story of the private and public confrontation of the reformer of Geneva and the arch-heretic. In my impression, Calvin was deeply shocked by the enthusiastic, extremely direct ecstasy of the Spanish Marrano, physician, and provocative thinker. Any border between divinity and humanity, as well between the creatures mutually, seemed to be erased in his suggestions, that were difficult to follow for all those interested. Through this confusion and mingling – e.g.: ‘he regards Christ to be a mixture of some divine and some human elements, but not to be reckoned both God and man’–,[50] Servet tries to achieve an immediate experience of an overflow of divine glory, that neglects the need of looking forward to the realization of eschatological promise, of standing at the ‘sentry post’ of eternity, that for Calvin characterizes the life of a Christian in this world.[51]

 In Chapter II.xiv, Calvin tries to insert his criticisms of Servet’s Christology in the formerly written sections on the person of the Mediator (although also in 1539, Servet was not yet fully absent). That could not be a simple operation, because Servet can hardly be seen as a thinker of the Church, who in thinking through the dogma tries to improve or to vary it. Servet’s whole co-ordinate system is another one! It’s my impression that Calvin tries to make clear how the doctrine of the hypostatic union is the instrument, by which every attempt of crossing borders, that have been drawn by the dogma, can be blocked.[52] God as such cannot be flesh, and the flesh as such cannot be God. There is no connection (and no separation in the connection) between the divine and the human nature of Christ in abstraction from the decision (the decree) and the free act of the triune God, in which the Word becomes flesh. For that reason, it is important that it is said in Philippians 2:7 that ‘Christ could not divest himself of Godhead, but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh’ – for kenosis must be seen as occultatio divinae majestatis, concealment of divine Majesty.[53] No immediacy! No direct accessibility! Esteeming the mystery of incarnation, and therewith enduring in humility and obedience has been asked of Jesus Christ and in Him of all of us, too. In contrast, Servet is willingly renouncing that mind-set.

For Calvin, as he elaborates in his 1548 commentary, an orthodox, anti-Arian interpretation of Philippians 2:6 was necessary: ‘being in the form of God, he reckoned it not an unlawful thing for him to show himself in that form’. Although Erasmus pretends to be in favour of a Nicaean orthodoxy, he denies that this orthodoxy can be confirmed by this verse and proposes to read it as referring to the logos ensarkos (as he does again vis-à-vis verse 7, where Calvin is following him). ‘But what I am the better for his orthodox confession, if my faith is not supported by any Scripture authority?’, Calvin complains.[54] Here in Institutes II.xiv we can discover the reason for Calvin’s stubbornness. A main part of the dispute with Servet – at least eleven of the thirty-four quotations from his works that are cited in this Chapter (sixteen of which can be found in section 8) – is dedicated to the defence of the ‘orthodox’ doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Servet combats the Nicaean dogma, but in Calvin’s analysis, his basic assumption for that is rather Sabellian than Arian in nature. ‘Before Christ was revealed in the flesh there were only shadow figures in God’, Servet asserts; ‘the truth or effect of these appeared only when the Word, who had been destined for this honour, truly began to be the Son of God’;[55] and ‘the Son of God was from the beginning an idea’, so that ‘the figurative representation of Christ took the place of begetting’.[56] And on this ground, for Servet the ‘being in the form of God’ of Philippians 2:6 must be read as a ‘sheer formal’ distinction of the persons (and therewith, indeed, in the manner of Sabellianism). When the Word is becoming son, then, it is not only in Jesus, but at the same time in the fulness of all persons and things, who were meant in this initial divine idea. Against that tendency, Calvin wants to maintain unwaveringly: ‘to neither angels nor men was God ever Father, except regarding his only begotten Son; and men, especially, hateful to God because of their iniquity, become God’s sons by free adoption because Christ is the Son of God by nature’.[57] Therewith, the argument is quite fundamental: if Christ should not be the eternal Son, the faith of all ages would have been absent. The eternal generation is the actual ground of faith. It is worth while keeping in mind the importance of this insight for Calvin, when we ask – as we did already and as we must do –, what are the effects of the experiences of Jesus Christ in his history on the eternal Logos.

II.4 Giorgio Biandrata (II.xiv.3.4.6) – and beyond

After the execution of Servet, antitrinitarian feelings remained present in the Italian community in the city of Geneva. Giorgio Biandrata (latinized as Blandrata, 1515/16-1588), physician as well (Calvin had difficulties with members of this profession), was a searching soul that visited the reformer with persistent questions. After Biandrata had written these questions down, Calvin responded in a series of short, thetic sentences.[58]  Most of those theses, Calvin took over in the Chapter on the Trinity in Book I of the last edition of his Institutes, but around four questions remained for the Chapter in question on the Mediatorship of Christ.[59] Generally, one can say that Biandrata was a disciple of Servet, but gradually, and especially in his later years in Poland and Transylvania, he evolved in the direction of Unitarianism and Socinianism. In this way, he personifies a development in Antitrinitarian thought from the initial ecstatic pantheism towards a more rationalistic deism.

Most of the questions of Biandrata suggest that it could be enough to acknowledge a Godhead of the Father.[60] A doubling in the speaking of the Son – equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards the Mediatorship of Reconciliation – should be unnecessarily complicated.[61] In the New Testament, the name ‘Lord’ should be reserved to Jesus Christ – as in 1 Cor. 8:6: ‘for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ – and it is only used of the Father when the work of his Son is meant. ‘But’, Calvin answers, ‘to restrict the word Lord to the person of the Mediator is trifling and silly because the apostles indiscriminately use the word Lord of Yahweh’. ‘But how’, Biandrata also asks, Christ exercises his Lordship ‘through whom all things exist’ in an office of Mediator before the Incarnation? In this respect, Calvin’s answer is more elaborated than the question sounded. ‘(As Mediator he puts himself, with reference to his office, on an inferior level, in order to draw us little by little to the Father). In this respect, the Son himself submits to the Father in the future age because the very perfection of divinity, which is now seen in a mirror according to our capacity, will be then made most clear to us.’ Until now, we only heard Calvin speaking on the mediatorship (of Creation) before incarnation, but now, uninvited, he also looks for the future state of it.

In this way, Calvin adds in the Institutes, the validity of 1 Corinthians 8:6[62] will be only provisional, ‘that is, to him was lordship committed by the Father, until such time as we should see his divine majesty face to face. Then he returns the lordship to his Father [1 Corinthians 15:24-28] so that – far from diminishing his own majesty – it may shine all the more brightly.’ ‘Then, also, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although yet is it covered by a veil’ (II.xiv.3).[63] This reasoning, beyond the letter of Biandrata’s question, is continued in Chapter II.xv section 5, in connection with the royal office of the Mediator, that will be finished with the Final Judgment as the last act of Christ’s reign.[64]

Recently, Rowan Williams has characterized this proposal as ‘A very eccentric proposition at first sight’,[65] and indeed it is difficult to grasp it. Is it meant in the sense of the fourth Century theologian Marcellus of Ancyra, who seems to teach an end of the history of incarnation in the eschaton, so that the economic Trinity will come to an end and only the immanent Trinity will be left? Anyhow, Calvin does not seem to deny that ‘of his kingdom there will be no end’ (Luke 1:33) – the sentence with which the council in Constantinople rejected the doctrine of Marcellus. For, in the eyes of Calvin, there remains some room for an eternal Kingdom of Christ in his divine majesty. But it seems to be important for him, that ‘the veil, by which the divine majesty was concealed’ though the humility of Jesus Christ, according to the hymn on the kenosis of the Son, will be removed, so that we will enjoy a pure vision of the triune God Himself in his glory ‘and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God’ (Commentary on 1 Cor. 15:27).[66] In this view, the humanity of Christ is not imperishable.

In the Netherlands, it was Arnold A. van Ruler (1908-1970), professor of Dogmatics in Utrecht, who tried to rethink this specific heritage of Calvin for the twentieth Century.[67] For him, the work of Christ as Redeemer has been made with the aim to restore, after the Fall, Creation in its original order (and not as a ‘new creation’ in the anabaptist sense). Christ is the Mediator of Creation, too, and this work of his is not substitutional. The incarnation was only an ‘emergency measure’, that became necessary because of the sin and the guilt of human being, but Christian doctrine doesn’t begin and doesn’t end with it. Instead of the ‘Christological concentration’ of Karl Barth, one can better speak of a ‘messianic intermezzo’ between the Beginning and the End. For it must be said that the work of redemption is, indeed, in the centre, but it is not the focus of what the Incarnation is for, namely, the honour of God and the happiness of human being before God. For that reason, the Church, to be sure, shall certainly preach the Gospel, but at least likewise or even more, it must impose the Law, to Christianise civilizations on earth. Therefore, in my perception, it was not by chance that Van Ruler defended the colonial politics of the Kingdom of the Netherlands after the Second World War theologically.

Of course, Van Ruler’s theology does not offer the only possible interpretation of the ‘very eccentric propositions’ of Calvin in his view on the eschatological ending of the office of the Mediator of Redemption. Nevertheless, precisely in this connection I prefer to give the last word to Karl Barth. In his lectures on the Ethics of Reconciliation, at the end of his Academic engagement (1959-1961), in his reflections on the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer, the plea for the swift coming of the Kingdom and its Justice, Barth asks whether the Kingdom of the Father must be identified with the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who prays for it. And in that connection, he too is compelled to offer his reading of the ‘famous passage’ 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, ‘where Christ at his final Parousia will hand over the kingdom to the Father and having overcome all hostile forces will himself be subject to God, who has subjected all things to him’:[68]

‘This passage says that in its future and definitive manifestation, in the form in which we are still to expect it, the kingdom of God will be revealed as the kingdom whose warring, victorious, and triumphant King and Lord is the Son of God and therefore Jesus Christ, the Son of God, however, who does not advance his own cause as distinct from the Father’s, but who subjects himself to the Father, is obedient to him, and acts in his service and in fulfilment of his will and work. If then, he is manifested in the last form of his Parousia in his subjection and servanthood, if his kingdom is manifested as that of the Servant of the Lord [ebed Yahweh], this implies no later restriction but is the authentic interpretation of his action as King and Lord in the kingdom of God as his own kingdom. His passion was itself his action as Kyrios. It is the very thing that proves and confirms the identity of his kingdom with God’s. Precisely in his humility as the Son of the Father, he has overcome the world and reconciled it to God. Precisely in relation to it, then, there can be no talk of the limitation of his kingdom by God’s or of the end of his kingdom. No, in it “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). In it he is the One of whose kingdom there will be no end, for God’s kingdom is everlasting’. (…) ‘In this future there will be a final and universal disclosure of the mystery that his kingdom (“the kingdom of the cross”, according to Zinzendorf) is the kingdom of God.’[69]

Read in this way – 1 Cor. 15:24-28 in the perspective of Philippians 2:5-11 – the humility of the eternal Son is no incident, no intermezzo that will be dissolved, but it is decisively and for ever characterizing this specific God! Perhaps we may take one step further and suggest that Paul’s next eschatological perspective, that because of all this ‘God may be all in all’, provokes an all-sided actuality of the humility of the Son, as a comprehensive practice in Creation: in those days, all creatures will be servants of one another, and all other types of Lordship will have been overcome.[70]

In conclusion

It will surely be questionable, in which measure we can combine this last-mentioned eschatological vision (in line with Karl Barth) with the vision of John Calvin. But can Calvin’s doctrine, as sketched in our analysis, be maintained, in which the pre-existence of the Logos as the Mediator of Creation as well as in the eschatological outcome of his Divine Majesty – that is no longer concealed, but that can shine without a remnant of the humanity even of the human being Jesus – has not been touched by the humility of Christ, a doctrine in which kenosis is conceived as a sheer temporary measure? Karl Barth did have reasons, when he discovered – in my observation at least around 1933-1934 –,[71] that a ‘pure’ Reformed concept of kenosis urgently needed correction. In Barth’s context it was a correction that took the Lutheran position into account. We can perform it in our own way.

[1] Joannis Calvini, Opera Selecta (OS) Vol. I, edidit Petrus Barth, Munich: Kaiser 1926, 92. In English quoted in: Frans H. Breukelman, The Structure of Sacred Doctrine in Calvin’s Theology, ed. Rinse Reeling Brouwer, trans. Martin Kessler, Grand Rapids MI/Cambridge UK: Eerdmans 2009, 81.

[2] OS I, 396; Breukelman, o.c., 96 and 195f.

[3] Calvini Opera  (CO) I, 477-478; Breukelman, o.c., 8. In the Institutes of 1539, Calvin opens his ‘Explanation of the Symbol’ with a passage about his hermeneutics of the Apostles’ Creed. In the editions between 1543-1554, this will be the beginning of Chapter 6, in the division in sections of the edition of 1550 this passage covers sections 1-5. In the following, we will refer to these editions as 6,1-5. For Calvins own translation of the 1539 edition in French (a landmark in the history of the French language for intellectual communication!), see now: Jean Calvin, Institution de la Religion Chrétienne (1541), edition critique par Olivier Millet, Geneva: Droz, 2008, Tome I, 562-567 (quotation on 564). After the Introduction of the scope of the Creed, there follows a second Introduction on the doctrine of Trinity, because the internal division of the Creed is trinitarian in nature (Inst. 1539: 6.6-25; Millet, o.c., 567-602).

[4] Cf. Richard A. Muller, ‘Establishing the ordo docendi: The Organisation of Calvin’s Institutes, 1536-1559’, in the same: The Unaccommodated Calvin. Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 118-139; also, Breukelman, o.c., 117-121.

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, London / New York: T&T Clark 2004, 178ff.

[6] Bruce L. McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son. Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon, Cambridge University Press 2021, 226; see also his comments on the proposals of von Balthasar, who reckons in divine economy with ‘the order Father-Spirit-Son’, and ‘ascribes to the Spirit the role of effecting the union of the Logos with Jesus’ (147f, 155).

[7] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, London: Longmans 1967, 148f.

[8] Justin, The First Apology 33.

[9] Synopsis Purioris Theologiae. Latin Text and English Translation, Vol. 2, ed. Henk van den Belt, trans. Riemer A. Faber, Disputation 25, ‘The Incarnation of the Son of God and the Personal Union of the Two Natures in Christ’, Thesis 6, 68-70 (Lat.) / 69-71 (Engl.).

[10] In Institutes 1559: II.xii.1, Calvin will clarify the remark from Institutes 1539-1554: Chap. 7,8, why God did need to become human with the remark, that this necessity was not to be seen as absolute, because it was founded in the eternal divine decree. In this respect, Calvin follows the tradition of Duns Scotus, who stressed the primacy of God’s will rather than his reason. See Joannis Calvini, Opera Selecta, ediderunt Petrus Barth, Guilelmus Niesel, Vol. III, München: Kaiser, 1928, 437 l. 4-8. Cf. Anthony N.S. Lane, A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, Grand Rapids MI.: Baker Academic, 2009, 88.

[11] Karl Barth in his Göttingen lectures quoted Thesis 6 of the Leyden Synopsis, but thereafter immediately continues: ‘True, the whole Trinity is the subject of revelation, of the incarnation’ (…). ‘The result, however, is the incarnate Logos, not the incarnate Trinity.’; see K. Barth, “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”. Erster Band: Prolegomena, 1924, Zürich: TVZ, Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe II/1985, 189; English Translation: The Göttingen Dogmatics, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids MI.: Eerdmans, 1990, 154 (SPT quoted according to H. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, English Translation Eugene OT: Wipf and Stock 2007, 413). The sentence on the ‘result’ could be taken from SPT Disp. 25 th. 4: ‘The incarnation is a work of God whereby the Son of God – according to the economy of the divine counsel of the Father, himself, and the Holy Spirit – humbled himself, and took upon himself in the unity of his person true, whole, complete and sacred flesh from the virgin Mary, through the Holy Spirit’s efficacious activity’. Barth misses the opportunity to think through a possible inconsistency in the doctrine of Reformed Orthodoxy here.

[12] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, Philadelphia PA: Westminster Press, 1960, 3 (‘John Calvin to the Reader’). In the following, English translations will be taken from this edition.

[13] Cf. K. Barth on Calvins working-method in 1559, CD IV/3, 553; ‘scissors’ seems to me better translation of ‘Schere’ than ‘sifting’ (Bromiley).

[14] Institutes 1559, OS III, 437 l. 7-8 (II.xii.1). This systematic connection of the eternal decree on this point seems to be more illuminating than the reference to the Scotist tradition by Anthony Lane, as mentioned above, note 10. For the rest, Calvin, in his aversion of a doctrine of divine potentia absoluta, does not appreciate the dictatorial word decretum (decree) and prefers terms as consilium (counsel) and beneplacitum (good pleasure).

[15] Millet, o.c., 626 footnote 338, remarks as an introduction to section 7,27 that Calvin returned here, at the end of his treatment of the virgin bird in 1541, to ‘the sum of our salvation’ from a catechetical rather than theological perspective. The catechetical perspective practically disappears in 1559, the theological perspective finds a new place. In their edition of the 1559 Institutes, Barth and Niesel mention this section only in a footnote; see OS III, 457 l. 30-41.

[16] Johannes Wollebius, Christianae Theologiae Compendium, Basel: Ioh. Iac. Genathi, 1626, Cap. xvi: De persona Christi theanthrōpos, Cap. xvii: De officio Christo mediatorio, Cap. XII-XIX: De Christi exinanitione, De Christi exaltatione; cf. F.H. Breukelman, ‘De christologie van Calvijn’, in: Bijbelse Theologie IV/2, Kampen: Kok, 1999, (313-352)346.

[17] Calvin’s second edition of the Institutes of 1539 was – as the Loci of Melanchthon had been in another way – strongly orientated on Paul’s letter to the Romans as the basic model for Christian teaching. Therefore, there is a strong interaction between the Strasbourg Institutes and Calvin’s first biblical commentary, that on Romans (1540). From that moment onwards, outcomes of his Biblical Studies will be taken over in next editions of the Institutes, when they provide clarification of doctrine or ammunition for polemics. Reversely, the Institutes – as Calvin remarks in the Preface to the second edition – offers the opportunity to expose the ground words and the main topics in Biblical language separately, and therewith it helps to avoid long excursuses in this respect during the commentary work. Stephen Edmondson, Calvin’s Christology, Cambridge University Press, 2004, presents the interaction between Calvin’s commentaries and his Institutes in the development of his Christology. In the following, we will encounter in Inst. II.xii-xiv some outcomes of Calvin’s commentaries on 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Colossians.

[18] Castellio was a colleague of Calvin in Geneva and a good bible reader. Calvin had visibly problems with a dissent in explaining Scripture in the Vénérable Compagnie, in this case on the explanation of the descent to hell. In the eyes of Castellio, Calvins existential interpretation of the temptation of Christ was too realistic and not stoic enough.

[19] Cf. E. Emmen, De christologie van Calvijn, Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1935, 31-46; J. Koopmans, Het oudkerkelijk dogma in de reformatie, bepaaldelijk bij Calvijn, Wageningen: H. Veenman & zonen, 1938, 77-87.

[20] A. Osiander, An Filius Dei fuerit incarnandus, si peccatum non introvisset in mundum, 1550; see also: Confessio Andr. Osiandri de unico Mediatore Jesu Christo et justificatione fidei, 1551.

[21] OS III, 443 l. 37-43 calls Alexander of Hales, Duns Scotus and Pico della Mirandola, as mentioned by Osiander.

[22] Inst. II.xii.7; Quoted in OS III, 445 l. 17-18.

[23] Karl Barth, CD IV/2, 115, explains why he tries to avoid the description of Jesus Christ as theantrōpos.

[24] Cf. I.A. Dorner, Entwickungsgeschichte der Person Christi, Stuttgart: Liesching, 1839, 200-204.

[25] Inst. II.xii.5; OS III, 442 l. 28-30.

[26] Inst. II.xii.4; OS III,440 l. 24.

[27] Inst. II.xii.1; OS III, 437 l. 24 – 438 l. 2. For this reason, in the year 1560 Calvin will oppose Franscesco Stancaro, for whom the Mediatorship of Christ could be limited to his human nature: already as the eternal Son, He is God in his condescension! Cf. Responsum ad fratres Polonos, quomodo mediator sit Christus, ad refutandum Stancaro errorem, CO 9, 333-342.

[28] Inst. I.xiii.6, OS III, 116 l. 11-16.

[29] Inst. II.xii.7, OS III, 446 l. 2-5. Cf. Calvin’s Commentary on Colossians, CO 52, 84-87.

[30] R. Zuurmond, ‘Hij is het Hoofd – Schepping en Herschepping bij Paulus in Col. 1:15-20’, Debharim. Opstellen aangeboden aan Frans Breukelman, Kampen: Kok, 1986, 100-110.

[31] Edmondson, o.c.,145, remarks that Calvin in his Institutes does not explicitly tie this creative work of the Son to his royal office, but that such a reference can be found in his before mentioned Responsum ad fratres Polonos.

[32] K. Barth, CD IV/3, 756; Barth refers here to Calvins doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole cosmos, as it had been exposed by Werner Krusche (1957).

[33] E.g., John Calvin, Commentary on Acts (1552), at Acts 7:30, Calvini Opera 48, 144: ‘Therefore, let us, first of all, set down this for a surety, that there was never since the beginning any communication between God and men, save only by Christ; for we have nothing to do with God, unless the Mediator be present to purchase his favour for us.’

[34] 1559: II.xiv.2, OSIII, 459 l. 12-14 (← Inst. 1539-1554: 7,14; Inst. 1541: Millet, o.c., I, 623 (‘Ce … ne se pouvoit entendre de l’humanité’) ← Inst. 1536: OSI, 79.

[35] K. Barth, CD IV/2, 33.

[36] Een waerachtigh verhaal der ’t zamensprekinghe tusschen Menno Simons en Martinus Micron van der Menschwerdinghe Jesu Christi and Een gantsch Duidlyck ende Bescheyden Antwoordt … op Martini Microns Antichristische leere, respectively. Cf. OS III, 449, l. 27-32 and W. Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999, 203.

[37] Contra Mennonem, CO 10-a, 167-176.

[38] On this point, Bucer and Bullinger had been better informed: the thesis was defended by Valentinus. See also Thysius in SPT Disp. 25, Antithesis III, o.c. (note 17), 94/95.

[39] See also the Belgic Confession (1561), article XVIII (whereas the Gallic Confession of 1559 in its corresponding article XIV did attack Servet).

[40] Commentarii in Pauli Epistolas ad Galatas, ad Ephesios, ad Philippenses, ad Colossenses; CO 52,27, and now: Ioannis Calvini Opera omnia. Series 2, Opera exegetica Veteris et Novi Testamenti; 16; ed. H. Feld; Geneva: Droz, 1992; on Calvin’s quoting of Erasmus, see Kirk Essary, ‘The radical humility of Christ in the sixteenth century: Erasmus and Calvin on Philippians 2:6-7’, Scottish Journal of Theology 68(2015)4, (398-420). 414f.

[41] Inst. II.xiii.2, OS III, 453 l.1-4; italics mine.

[42]  Inst. II.xiii.3. On the differences between the old Aristotelian and the more modern Lucretian-Hippocratic schools under physicians see Balke, o.c., 206.

[43] Inst. II.xiii.4, OS III, 457 l. 12-16. Calvin follows here the Thomistic view, distinguished from the Scotistic proposal of an immaculata conceptio to prevent Mary from original Sin; the last view would become Roman-Catholic dogma not before 1854.

[44] OS III, 458 l. 5-13. Because of this type of quotations, Friedrich Loofs, in his article on kenosis – PRE3, Vol. X, Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1901, (246-263) 258 – concludes that the Reformed tradition ‘never reached the idea of incarnation’ in a real kenotic sense.

[45] S. Voolstra, Het Woord is vlees geworden. De melchioritisch-menniste incarnatieleer, Kampen: Kok, 1982, and the other literature mentioned there.

[46] Calvin shows a certain humanistic, (pseudo-)aristocratic disdain towards his less educated anabaptist conversation partners; see Balke, o.c., 206f.. This demonstrates that we cannot neglect the issue of class in interconfessional relationships.

[47] Voolstra, o.c., 168 (quoting sentences of the Flamish mennists De Cuyper and Outerman).

[48] Inst. III.xi.6, OS IV, 187 l. 30.

[49] Dr. O. Noordmans, Verzamelde Werken Deel 2, Kampen: Kok, 1979, 464.

[50] Inst. II.xiv.5, OS III, 464 l. 11-13.

[51] For this image (derived from Cicero) see Inst. III.ix.4 and III.x.6. For Calvins strongly eschatologically motivated critics of Servet, Inst. II.ix.3, OS III, 400 l. 25-27 is very instructive: ‘He pretends that by faith in the gospel we share in the fulfilment of all the promises. As if there were no difference between us and Christ!’

[52] In the same direction goes Edmondson, o.c., 204.

[53] This sentence partly can be found already in the Institutes of 1543: 7,12, CO I, 520 (also OS III, 451 footnote l. 27-29) and now 1559, II.xiii.2: OS III, 450 l. 20. How kenosis as occultatio divinae maiestatis (governed by the perception of revelation as divine accommodatio) pervades Calvins explanation of the Synoptic Gospels has been sketched by Dieter Schellong in his fine book Calvins Auslegung der synoptischen Evangelien, München: Kaiser, 1969.

[54] ‘Nec satis verecunde Erasmus, qui tam hunc locum quam alios similes eludere suis calillis conatur. Fatetur quidem ubique Christum esse Deum.’ And then the (in our ears perhaps ‘fundamentalist’ sentence follows): Sed quid me iuvat orthodoxa eius confessio, si nulla Scripturae authoritate fulciatur mea fides?’ (italics mine). Cf. Essary, o.c., 411. McCormack, o.c., 17, quotes Calvin’s assent with Erasmus on the interpretation of verse 7 but is silent on his dissent vis-à-vis verse 6.

[55] Inst. II.xiv.5, OS III, 464 l. 14-17.

[56] Inst. II.xiv.8, OS III, 470 l. 8-10 and l. 15-16 respectively.

[57] Inst. II.xiv.5, OS III, 465 l. 24-28. A more extensive variant of this reasoning can be found in Calvin’s Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra Trinitate, published 1554, the year after Servet’s execution, CO 8, (453-644) 488. Cf. J. Koopmans, o.c., 62f.

[58] Quaestiones Blandratae, CO 17, 169-171, and Calvin’s Responsum ad quaestiones Georgii Blandratae, CO 9, 321-332. See N. Tylenda, ‘The warning that went unheeded: John Calvin on Giorgio Biandrata’, in: Calvin Theological Journal 12 (1977), 24-62. An English translation of Biandrata’s memorandum and of Calvins answers is offered in the appendix to Tylenda’s article.

[59] Inst. I.xiii.20(-27) and Inst. II.xiv.3, 4 and 6. See in the apparatus of OS III, 134f, 142, 144 and 462, 466.

[60] Quotations in this paragraph: CO 17, 169 and CO 9, 328; CO 17, 170 and CO 9, 326f.

[61] Cf. the formula in the so-called Athanasian Creed, that displeased Biandrata: ‘equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity’.

[62] On this verse, see McCormack, o.c., 205.

[63] Inst. II.xiv.3, OS III, 462 l. 18-23.

[64] Inst. II.xv.5, OS III, 478 l. 8 – 479 l. 33. In this section, we also find back the section 7,7 from the Institutes of 1539-1554, on the title ‘Lord’ in the Apostles’ Creed.

[65] Rowan Williams, Christ the heart of Creation, London etc.: Bloomsbury, 2018, 149f.

[66] Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:27 (1546), CO 49, 549: ‘Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus, then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the vail being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.’ For me, it is difficult to grasp how it is possible to combine this vision with the importance of the humanity of Christ as safeguarding our eschatological humanity for God. Cf. F.H. Breukelman 1999, o.c., (313-352)350.

[67] A.A. van Ruler, ‘De verhouding van het kosmologische en het eschatologische moment in de christologie’ (1961), in: dr. A.A. van Ruler, Verzameld Werk deel IV-A. Christus, de Geest en het heil, Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2011, 139-165.

[68] K. Barth, Christian Life, trans. G.W. Bromiley. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981, 263-264 (the posthumous German edition in the Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe, Das christliche Leben. Die kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4, Fragmente aus dem Nachlaß edited from Hans-Anton Drewes and Eberhard Jüngel, Zürich: TVZ, had appeared in 1976). It is delightful to read about Graf N.L. von Zinzendorf, who ‘took terrible offense at Paul over this, chalked it up as an error, flatly refused to recognize it as binding and ventured the bold hypothesis that because of it Paul was punished with the “thorn in the flesh” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7’ (with an extensive footnote in the German version on pp. 432-3).

[69] Translation slightly corrected (RRB).

[70] See

[71] Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, ‘Jesus Christ’, in: Paul Dafydd Jones, Paul T. Nimmo (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Karl Barth, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, (277-293)284-5.

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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