Calvin's Doctrine of Our Union with Christ

1.      Introduction

Calvin scholars, like Charles Partee, have argued that the notion of unio mystica is “a more comprehensive way” of approaching the theology of the Institutes.[1] Others support this thesis by contending that Calvin’s spirituality is centered on unio mystica.[2] The significance of this theological motif in Calvin’s theology and piety, therefore, justifies a preliminary exploration into his doctrine of our union with Christ. However, the comprehensiveness of this doctrine means that its coverage will be limited; as such, our treatment of unio mystica will not include Calvin’s doctrine of the Church and the sacraments.

Alister McGrath advances the proposal that an important methodological principle underlies Calvin’s theological anthropology - the Chacedonian axiom of distinctio sed non separatio. According to him, the Christological rule which asserts the two distinctive, yet inseparable natures of the hypostatic union are frequently appealed to by Calvin in depicting the divine-human relationship; thus “two ideas may be distinguished but not separated.[3] Since unio mystica is a Christological-soteriological concept, we shall examine how Calvin understood it in view of this axiom.

Nonetheless, since it is not simply a notion in reference to Christ alone, but has profound pneumatological and soteriological dimensions, we will focus, with regard to the latter, on Calvin’s doctrine of justification and sanctification. But all this is set within the context of his larger trinitarian emphasis, since the person and work of Christ and the Spirit must lead us to the Father.

2.      Union with Christ as Trinitarian Reality

2.1     The Source and Term of our unio mystica - God the Father

Our union with Christ, according to Calvin, has its foundation in the pretemporal electing will of God the Father. This, of course, does not mean that unio mystica is not the common will of the Trinity,[4] but rather, by appropriation, the principle of origin is assigned to God the Father, in virtue of the personal, incommunicable property that distinguishes his personhood from the other Two.[5] Calvin also appropriates the “essential properties” wisdom and power to the Son and Spirit respectively based on their “distinct” modalities of action observed in Scripture - “to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.”[6] For Calvin, echoing Augustine, the “real distinction[s]” of the Persons are to be found in their personal names - Father, Son, and Spirit, which are represented by “their mutual relationships.”[7]

Thus, our union with Christ, in its temporal fulfillment, has its prior, eternal ground in the covenantal union God made with Himself,[8] which is nothing less than an expression of God’s essential love and mercy[9] - this is the elect’s assurance of salvation.[10] Our union with Christ brings us into relation with God through the Spirit of adoption; the regenerate become, by grace, sons and daughters of the Father because they inexplicably participate in the Son’s eternal relation with the Father, which is by nature.[11]

There are occasions where Calvin refers to Christ as “the bond of our union with God” and, elsewhere, he defines unio mystica as “the only bond of our union with God.”[12] Here, Calvin applies the term “bond” to Christ in a different sense, that is, as intermediary,[13] rather than as unitive power, which more appropriately describes the Spirit, since the latter is the bond of our union with Christ.[14] This is clear from Calvin’s robust concept of the mediation of Christ.[15] Hence, Calvin can assert that “no one is loved by God apart from Christ” since, citing St. Paul, He is “the bond whereby God may be found to us in fatherly faithfulness.”[16] God becomes our Father through Christ, since the Son is “the bond of our adoption.”[17]

In the exercise of Christ’s kingly office, Calvin says, “God mediately, so to speak, wills to rule and protect the church in Christ’s person” [emphasis mine] in order for “Christ [to stand] in our midst, to lead us little by little to a firm union with God.”[18] In Calvin’s affirmation of the classical economic-immanent distinction ascribed to the Trinity, Christ is functionally subordinated to the Father, for a time, in His office as Mediator.[19] Hence, Calvin can claim that the title “Lord,” which is ascribed to Christ, “represents a degree midway between God and us.”[20] When the Father becomes “all in all” in the Eschaton, “God will cease to be Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself,” and “God will then of himself become the sole Head of the church” with the surrender of Christ’s office as the Mediator.[21] Union with Christ, in the person of the Mediator, who remains God-man permanently, will lead finally to visio Dei, when the saints will “see his [the Father’s] majesty face to face.”[22] Therefore, God the Father is both the first cause and final end of our union with Christ.

2.2     The Object of our unio mystica - Jesus Christ, the Mediator[23]

The hypostatic union and unio mystica, though distinct, are to be regarded as mutually connected realities, though our union with Christ is grounded in, and proceeds from the incarnation. The incarnation “was necessary” in order “that his divinity and our human nature might by mutual connection grow together.”[24] Through the Incarnation, Christ willingly took “what was ours as to impart what was his to us, and to make what was his by nature ours by grace.” Thus, through the hypostatic union, we have a share in his sonship and heavenly inheritance. In the Son, we become “children of God [the Father]” and “are assured of the inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom” - the Holy Spirit.[25]

Though the atoning mission of Christ is completed, yet his nature and work as the Mediator has not ceased; thus, our union with Christ is a participation of act and being, since Christ’s identity is inseparable from his mission. [26] The sole access to the Father is through Christ, by the faith-operation of the Spirit “since “God dwells in inaccessible light” [1 Tim. 6:16], Christ must become our intermediary.” In view of dyophysite affirmation of Chalcedon, Christ alone is both the medium and the object of our faith; for, although union with the person of Christ, in his human nature, leads us to union with God [the Father], yet as Christ himself is God, He is the term of our faith.[27] Does this contradict what has been already noted that the Father is to be regarded as the term of our union with Christ?

Here, the “distinct but not separated” rule applies specifically in regard to the categories of “person” and “nature” used in the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ. When the relations among the divine Persons are spoken of, there is a taxonomical ordering involved; thus, the Father is first, followed by the Son, and the Spirit. Since Calvin sees the consubstantiality of Father, Son and Spirit as an absolute category, the divine Persons in themselves, without reference to another, are to be identified with the Essence. As Christ, in his divine nature, is autotheos, no taxis is applicable, and “union with God” may be applied to the persons of the Trinity indistinctly.[28] But when Calvin alludes to the Father-Son relation (in the Spirit), unio mystica ought to be regarded as a mediating category, as we have noted above.[29]

Since the hypostatic union is a permanent bond, Christ as “an everlasting intercessor” is united with the Church through an equally permanent bond.[30] Hence, Calvin asserts that “the Kingdom of the Son of God had no beginning and will have no end” in view of the fact that “not only because Christ, as eternal Word of God, is joined in the same Spirit with the Father, but also from his character as the Mediator”[emphasis mine].[31] The role of the Holy Spirit, as the spiritual bond that unites Christ with the Church, has an eternal correlate in the relation between Father and Son - the vinculum caritatis.[32] This union is both personal and communal, since the ontology of communion is love, viz. hypostasis in ekstasis. [33]

2.3     The Effective, Unitive Bond of our unio mystica - God the Holy Spirit

Distinct from the role that Christ plays as the mediating bond, the Spirit is the unitive bond of our union with Christ. Appropriating the Augustinian notion of the Spirit as the “bond of love” (vinculum caritatis or amoris) between the Father and the Son, Calvin claims that “the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”[34] A frequent criticism of Western pneumatology, in employing this Augustinian metaphor, is its tendency toward depersonalizing the Spirit (granted that we are speaking here of a relational not a quasi-material “bond”) and an implicit subordinationism in relation to the Son (the filioque). Can the same be said of Calvin when he appears to describe the Holy Spirit in similar instrumental, non-personal terms?

In relation to the charge of diminishing the hypostatic weight of the Spirit, it must be noted that Calvin (1) affirms the divine subsistence of the Spirit in terms equal to that of the Son and the Father,[35] (2) echoes the patristic writers in utilizing metaphors from the material realm to describe all three divine Persons, where appropriate.[36] The strongest argument against this charge is that the same term is used in relation to Christ. Another mitigating factor is Calvin’s constant referral to the Spirit as a personal operating subject (“the secret energy of the Spirit”) alongside his designation of the third divine Person as a quasi-personal “relation” (“bond of union”).

Is Calvin guilty of subordinating the Spirit to Christ? Again, Calvin applies the distinctio sed non separatio axiom in affirming the reciprocity of Christ and the Spirit.[37] On this account, one can speak of a Christocentricism in Calvin’s theology, but not a Christomonism, which sees the Son apart from the Spirit (or the Father).[38] One the one hand, since the Spirit is the anointing within Christ, He “will be found nowhere but in Christ”; on the other hand, without the Spirit, Christ “would be, so to say, dead, and empty of His power.”[39] Calvin, elsewhere, speaks of this “bond of union” as identical to faith[40] and holiness,[41] since the work of illumination and sanctification are peculiar to the Holy Spirit. Although, faith and union with Christ are distinct aspects of the Spirit’s work,[42] both are to be regarded in simultaneity, and within the scope of Christ’s operation, too.[43] In the light of unio mystica, Calvin asserts that “[w]e are partakers of the Holy Spirit to the extent that we share in Christ.”[44]

Seen within the context of the perichoresis of the Son and the Spirit, there is also a mutual subordination between them in their missions and modes of operation.[45] As Christ rules the Church as its Head through the Spirit, who is the bond of this union, “the Spirit has chosen Christ as his seat that from him might abundantly flow the heavenly riches.”[46] Viewed from the opposite perspective, the kingly office is jointly shared by the Son and Spirit (and specially appropriated to the Father, who is principium) since “Christ’s Kingdom lies in the Spirit.”[47] And, as Christ’s kingship is “spiritual in nature,” the whole Church and its individual members are, therefore, united to Christ in a “spiritual union.”[48]

Through the unitive operation of the Holy Spirit, Christ and the elect are brought into reciprocal relationship. The one is the humanward trajectory - Christ’s participation in us - where “he had to become ours and to dwell within us”; the other is the Christward movement - our participation in Christ - where we “are said to be “engrafted into him” [Rom. 11:17], and “to put on Christ.”[49] And the inseparable corollary of communion with Christ is “the communion of saints.” Although salvation has an intensely personal dimension, viz. an individual person’s relation to God, nonetheless, it is not a private affair, since its context is ecclesiologically framed.[50] Hence, a proper understanding of the reality of unio mystica, which recognizes the Spirit’s function as its vinculum, demands that righteousness and holiness be interpreted communally.[51]

3.      The Double Grace of Justification and Sanctification

Through participatio Christi, Calvin asserts that “we principally receive [the] double grace” of justification and regeneration. Both “our purgation and regeneration” are fundamentally trinitarian “events” wherein one recognizes “in the Father the cause, in the Son the matter, and in the Spirit the effect.”[52] Echoing the Chalcedonian Christological principle, this double grace of justification and sanctification are not to be separated,[53] but united in Christ;[54] and yet, they must be distinguished and not confused.[55] Calvin considers the sun to be a most apposite metaphor in explicating this double grace: “The sun, by its heat, quickens and fructifies the earth [sanctification], by its beams brightens and illumines it [justification by faith].”[56] To pull apart justification and good works is to hold a “Nestorian” soteriology;[57] to make them indistinguishable is to hold on to an “Eutychian” view of salvation, as Osiander did.[58] Union with Christ is, therefore, the soteriological correlate to the Christological notion of the hypostatic union.

Having stated the above, has Calvin reduced the forensic thrust of justification, a notion which Luther so greatly emphasized, by grounding both righteousness and holiness in unio mystica, which is, properly speaking, an “organic” metaphor more akin to sanctification? In other words, in Calvin’s effort to mitigate the Roman criticism that the Protestant notion of justification is no more than legal fiction, with his doctrine of union with Christ and the reverse ordering of sanctification and justification in the Institutes, does he end up confusing the two distinct notions?

3.1          The Metaphors of “Putting on Christ” and “Engrafting” [59]

In answer to the above question, we must note Calvin’s appropriation of two distinct metaphors united under the idea of unio mystica - “put on Christ” and “engrafted.” In that key and oft-quoted definition of “union with Christ” at the start of Book Three, Calvin points out that “We also, in turn, are said to be “engrafted into him” [Rom. 11:17], and to “put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27].”[60] Before he enters into his discussion of “faith,” Calvin alludes to the two metaphors: “By the grace and power of the same Spirit we are made his members, to keep us under himself [justification] and in turn to possess him [sanctification]” [emphases mine].[61] In his introductory paragraph to the chapter on “Justification by Faith,” Calvin reiterates the notion of the double grace brought about by unio mystica: Through faith, we have, in justification, “those benefits of God which it confers upon [humanity]” and, in sanctification, “the fruits it brings forth in him [or her]” [emphases mine].[62]

The grammar for justification, in terms of putting on or being clothed in Christ, involves associations that are much more static, extrinsic, epidermal and aesthetic. The syntax of regeneration (in Calvin’s sense) - engrafting and other related horticultural images - gives a description that is more dynamic, intrinsic, structural and organic. Thus, the distinction between the once-for-all “alien” righteousness of Christ freely imputed on a sinner (justification) and the progressive holiness imparted through the indwelling Spirit in the regenerated person (sanctification) is obtained without separation, since they are simultaneous realities within unio mystica.

3.1.1     Imputed Righteousness as the Result of “Putting on Christ”

Calvin joins together a cluster of images to signify the reality of justification: acquittal from the judicial realm,[63] imputation from the accounting discipline; and, covering from the OT sacrificial system. [64] Since imputed righteousness is a positional or “relative” notion, and not an accumulative concept of “quality” (as is sanctification),[65] it is our standing before God which counts, viz. how we appear before his judgement.[66]

Since “no sinner can find favor in [God’s] eyes”, he or she must be clothed in Christ in order to be “justified in God’s sight”.[67] The justified has no part in works-righteousness, for such a person “grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, is clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man [or woman].”[68] Echoing Ambrose’s interpretation of Jacob concealing himself under his brother’s coat to receive the blessings of Isaac, Calvin states that “we in like manner hide under the precious purity of our first-born brother, Christ, so that we may be attested righteous in God’s sight” [emphases mine].[69]

By situating the metaphor of being clothed with Christ within a judicial context,[70] Calvin has retained the important forensic aspect of justification; hence, it is a legal yet personal reality. It is not an abstract forensic “fiction” because this alien, external righteousness of Christ cannot be separated from us since it is Christ himself who has enveloped us, by the indissoluble bond of his Spirit.

3.1.2     Imparted Holiness as the Result of Being “Engrafted into Christ”[71]

Through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon us,[72] and the non-imputation of our sins,[73] we are declared and accounted righteous by God, [74] so that “we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father.”[75] Hence, the declarative pronouncement of the Judge upon us makes adoption a reality; adoption, like justification has a legal dimension. Nonetheless, it is also personal and ontological, since filiation consists in being given the Spirit of adoption, who brings about a rebirth, or renewal of nature from within.[76]

For Calvin, regeneration, or repentance, as the restoration of the imago dei in us,[77] is duplex in nature - “mortification of the flesh and vivification of the spirit.”[78] This double character of sanctification, or “continual repentance” is made possible for those, who through unio mystica, have been “engrafted into the life and death of Christ.”[79] Mortification is analagous to the death of Christ, and vivification, the resurrection of Christ, in the power of the Spirit:

He strengthens in plainer words the argument he has already stated; for the similitude which he mentions leaves now nothing doubtful, inasmuch as grafting designates not only a conformity of example, but a secret union, by which we are joined to him; so that he, reviving us by his Spirit, transfers his own virtue to us. Hence as the graft has the same life or death in common with the tree into which it is engrafted, so it is reasonable that we should be partakers of the life no less than of the death of Christ.[80]

Union with Christ enjoins us to “cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”[81] Holiness is the production of good fruit,[82] made possible through unio mystica and the “Spirit of sanctification,” who is “the root and seed of heavenly life in us.” [83] Hence, “proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” is “the fruits of regeneration,”[84] which Calvin lists as “the duties of piety toward God, of charity toward men [and women], and in the whole of life, holiness and purity.”[85]

3.2     Christocentric and Trinitarian Nature of Justification and Sanctification

Though Calvin is unequivocal in contending that justifying righteousness is rooted in the humanity of Christ, he does not deny that justification flows from the whole Person of Christ, as “a fountain, open to us, from which we may draw what otherwise would lie unprofitably hidden in that deep and secret spring.”[86] In affirming the theandric person and work of Christ, we do not separate the human nature from the divine nature, and their distinct operations, which are united in His Person. But one should neither confuse the distinct activities of Christ’s natures, nor the divine persons by confounding the missions that are proper to them (the Son and the Spirit). The office and title of the Mediator is proper to Christ, and the work of justification “peculiar” to Him, and therefore, distinguishes Him “from the Father and the Spirit.”[87]

Nonetheless, Calvin does not deny the Augustinian axiom that the external operations of the Trinity are undivided (opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt)[88] for he states that with Christ, “this work [of justification] is the common task of the Father and the Holy Spirit.” In other words, while imputed righteousness stems from the humanity of Christ, this righteousness is proper to the Mediator. Yet, the title of Justifier belongs to the entire Trinity, and specially appropriated to Christ. Hence, justification by faith is a trinitarian event, which happens in conjunction with our union with Christ;[89] the Father declares us righteous in so far as the Spirit bonds us to Christ, the garment of righteousness.

In like manner, though sanctification is specially appropriated to the Spirit, Christ is not separated from this, in the light of unio mystica.[90] This cannot be disconnected from the hypostatic union, since Christ “was conceived of the Holy Spirit in order that, in the flesh taken, fully imbued with the holiness of the Spirit, he might impart that holiness to us.” As repentance conforms us to Christ - the true imago Dei, sanctification leads us to union with God the Father. Thus, “[t]he chief good of man is nothing else but union with God; this is attained when we are formed according to him as our exemplar.”[91]

4.      Union with Christ as Participation in the Divine Life

In Calvin’s exegesis of a key passage in which the patristic doctrine of theosis is based upon (2 Pet. 1:4), he admits that the biblical doctrine echoes the Platonic idea of imitation, and asserts that the end of justification and sanctification is “that we may at length be partakers of eternal life and glory as far as it will be necessary for our complete felicity.” He totally rejects Manichean emanationism and neo-Platonic mysticism in their blurring of the divine-human difference, while stating that “the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.” [92]

Calvin’s severe rejection of Servetus’ emanationistic theological anthropology, and his affirmation of creatio ex nihilo,[93] must act as a crucial interpretive key to the passages in which he speaks of unio mystica as our participation in Christ’s “substance.”[94] Partee suggests that this union “is not mystical (in the sense of imitation) nor substantial (in an ontological sense) but real (in a genuine but unspecified and unspecifiable sense).”[95] We agree with Partee that Calvin does not speak of an essential participation, and yet it must be affirmed that unio mystica is not idealistic, but ontic. In Calvin’s disagreement with Osiander’s notion of justification as an “essential” righteousness, he accuses the latter of confusing our mode of union with Christ, with the mode of union among the divine Persons.

However, if Calvin does affirm something like a patristic notion of theosis, it cannot be said that he flatly rejects the notion of unio mystica as imitation,[96] or that it does not have ontological significance. Hence, he charges Osiander in failing to account for “the bond of this unity [our union with Christ],” which makes our oneness with Christ not one which “Christ’s essence is mixed with our own” but an energetic union through “the secret power of his Spirit.”[97] Hence, to be “partakers of the divine nature” means a participation not of “essence but quality”;[98] thus, it is not substantial, but nonetheless, it is still ontological as participation in the nature involves a sharing in the properties of the essence.               

In spite of the accusation that Calvin is crypto-Nestorian,[99] and indicative of this is his understanding of the patristic doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum as a mere verbal formula, by which he asserts that the properties of both natures are improperly but directly transferred to one another,[100] there is, we contend, in Calvin, an equally robust emphasis on the unity of Christ’s person. Hence, Calvin asserts that “our key to [the] right understanding” of the communicatio idiomatum and the unity of the God-man is in the concept of Christ as Mediator.[101] Even though Calvin speaks of the Mediator’s divine attributes and “prerogatives” as endowments due to the incarnation, yet as God, we must affirm that “along with the Father he held them before the creation of the world” though not “in the same manner or respect.” Hence, divine properties are to be properly attributed to the person of the Mediator, since Christ is truly God. However, the communication of these divine properties are proper only to Jesus Christ alone, and no other human being, for “they could not have been given to a man who was nothing but a man.”[102] In this way, he distinguishes the hypostatic union from unio mystica.

Yet we do partake of the divine nature, in our union with the humanity of the Mediator. Through the incarnation, life that is properly the attribute of the eternal Logos “pervaded [the assumed flesh] with fullness of life to be transmitted to us”; thus, mortal human nature is “endowed with immortality.”[103] After the Ascension, Christ’s bodily presence is localized in heaven but He is present with us by a diffusion of his power and energy.[104] Hence, through unio mystica, we participate in Christ’s immortality for “the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself.”[105] Though this “blessed immortality and glory” is actual in Christ, but only virtual in us, “yet, in consequence of the secret union, it belongs truly to the members.” [106] While we do participate in the eternal life of God, in view of the of the hypostatic union and unio mystica, Calvin admits that through the energies of the Spirit, we do share, in some manner, in the “substance” of Christ’s body, not merely the energies of his human nature, in the Eucharistic celebration. Hence, though he rejects the notion that we physically partake of the “substance” of Christ’s exalted flesh, nonetheless, in Calvin’s view, we do really partake of the “essence” of his humanity, as we are nourished by Christ’s body through its natural energies. While he maintains an essence-energies distinction, Calvin thinks that we cannot separate the body of Christ from its energies. [107] However, he is also defending the integrity of Christ’s human essence, which by nature is localized, and is therefore spatially located in heaven. In the same manner, we retain our essential and personal identities in our union with Christ, as we are bonded to Christ by the divine energy of the Spirit.

Our union with Christ is not a state, but a dynamic process that begins with the initial engrafting: As such, “[n]ot only does he [Christ] cleave to us by an indivisible bond of fellowship, but with a wonderful communion, day by day, he grows more and more into one body with us, until he becomes completely one with us.”[108] Our koinonia with Christ is mutual insofar as there is an identity of nature, and a fellowship of equality that increases by day. Nonetheless, the Church stands in an asymmetrical relation to Christ as God, since the recovery of our true personhood through justification and sanctification, and participation in immortality, is utterly dependent on the will and operation of the Trinity. This is analogous to the fact that the human nature of Christ is enhypostatized in the personhood of the pretemporal Logos through the hypostatic union. In like manner, our personal identity is not grounded in mere biological existence, but is realized through the spiritual rebirth in unio mystica. Therefore, “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” [emphasis mine].[109]

In spite of the parallels between the hypostatic union and our union with Christ, nonetheless, there is evidently a more robust ontological emphasis in Calvin’s soteriology, centered on the notion of unio mystica (which radiates out into his doctrines of the Church and the sacraments),[110] as compared to the more utilitarian bias in his Christology. This tension between his Christology and soteriology is indicative of the sharp distinction, which Calvin posits between the hypostatic union and unio mystica. Hence, the more universal, cosmic emphasis[111] of salvation in the Greek patristic notion of theosis is not evident in Calvin as he sides with the Augustinian-Thomistic soteriological construal of double predestination.[112]

5.      Conclusion

We have seen how the idea of unio mystica, in Calvin’s thought functions as an organic link to many of his other doctrinal themes – the Trinity, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology. Along with this emphasis, Calvin applies the axiom of distinctio sed non separatio to highlight the crucial distinctions we need to make in doing theology – essence and persons, essence and energies, Christ and Spirit, divinity and humanity, justification and sanctification, among others. Particularly, with regard to imputed righteousness and imparted holiness, we noted that Calvin not only thinks we must conceptually distinguish the two ideas, but that there is great value in applying symbolic distinctions. The “spiritual” or practical nature of systematic theology cannot depend on merely the precision and univocality of technical language, but must allow for the broader use of poetic and metaphorical language. Hence, theology and piety, while distinct, cannot be separated. For what is the notion of the hypostatic union and, more so, of unio mystica, if they are merely conceptual schemes that are not rooted in an incomprehensible reality, which demands existential appropriation? And, if, we are to receive the sublime truth our union with Christ as whole persons, then what reason is there to separate poetics from technique, piety from theology?


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Calvin, John. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion 1. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated and indexed by Ford L. Battles. The Library of Christian Classics, ed. John Baillie et al., vol. XX. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.

________. The Comprehensive John Calvin Collection. CD-ROM Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998

Gründler, Otto. “John Calvin: Engrafting in Christ,”169-187. The Spirituality of Western Christendom. E. Rozanne Elder, ed. Cistercian Studies Series No. 30. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1976.

Hageman, Howard G. “Reformed Spirituality.” Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader. Ed. by Kenneth J. Collins. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000, 138-157.

Hesselink, I. John. “Calvin, the Holy Spirit, and Mystical Union.” Perspectives 13, no. 1 (January 1998): 15-18.

McCormack, Bruce L. “For Us and Our Salvation: Incarnation and Atonement in the Reformed tradition.” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 43, Nos. 1-4 (1998): 281-316.

McGinn, Bernard. “Love, Knowledge, and Mystical Union in Western Christianity: Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries.” Church History 56 (March 1987): 7-24.

McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture.Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990.

Partee, Charles. “Calvin’s Central Dogma Again.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 18, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 191-199.

Smedes, Lewis B. All Things Made New: A Theology of Man’s Union with Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970.

Tamburello, Dennis E. Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard.Columbia Series in Reformed Theology. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Torrance, Thomas F. Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

Wendel, François. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. Translated by Philip Mairet. London: William Collins and Son; London: Harper & Row, 1963. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997.

Willis, E. David. Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-Called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin’s Theology. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, ed. Heiko A. Oberman et al., vol. II. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966.


[1] Taking his cue from Karl Barth, Partee uses this doctrine as a structural principle, proposing an objective-subjective division of the Institutes: (1) God for us, as Creator (Book I) and Redeemer (II), and (2) God in us, as individuals (III) and community (IV). Charles Partee, “Calvin’s Central Dogma Again,” in The Sixteenth Century Journal 18.2 (Summer 1987), 191- 199. See also, Otto Gründler, “John Calvin: Engrafting in Christ,” in The Spirituality of Western Christendom. E. Rozanne Elder, ed. Cistercian Studies Series No. 30 (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1976), 169-187; and, I. John. Hesselink, “Calvin, the Holy Spirit, and Mystical Union.” Perspectives 13, no. 1 (January 1998), 15-18.

[2] Howard G. Hageman, taking his cue from Wilhelm Neisel, argues that the “starting point” of any discourse on Calvin’s spirituality must be the unio mystica. See “Reformed Spirituality” in Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader, edited by Kenneth J. Collins (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), 143.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 149.

[4] Since Calvin upholds the orthodox affirmation of God’s essential simplicity, he affirms that God’s “ will is one and simple in him.” John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), I: xviii: 3, p. 234.

[5] Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 18, p. 142. The taxonomical ordering of the Trinity ad intra arises also from the personal properties of the divine Persons; hence “in the Father is the beginning and the source.” Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 20, p. 144.

[6] Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 18, p. 142-143. We take these “distinctions” made by Calvin not to mean the rejection of the Augustinian axiom opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt, [contra. Philip Walker Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship (New York; Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 41] but an affirmation of the doctrine of appropriations, which was conjointly used by the tradition. The former, as a theological rule, has precedence over the latter, which is a linguistical device used to assign (improperly) certain “essential” attributes or functions to the divine persons in virtue of an appropriateness to their personal properties, where Scripture warrants (though this last point might not have been faithfully adhered to within certain sub-traditions). Calvin himself says that these “distinctions” and the ordering of wisdom and power are logical ones since “the mind of each human being is naturally inclined to” see them as such.

[7] Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 17, p. 142; 19 & 19, p. 143. Calvin’s lack of interest in elaborating on the “personal properties” of the divine Persons in terms of “relations of origins” does indicate a certain caution toward the Augustinian-Thomistic tradition. While he did not appropriate the Thomistic trinitarian categories of essence, processions, persons, relations, and notions, perhaps, due to his reticence toward over-speculation (but certainly not for want of numerical systematization!), Calvin, it seems to us, was not original enough (and this implies no derogation) to have rejected the tradition altogether.

[8] “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man [and woman].” Calvin, Institutes III: xxi, 5, 926.

[9] “For this reason, Paul says that the love with which God embraced us “before the creation of the world” was established and grounded in Christ [Eph. 1:4-5].” Calvin, Institutes II: xvi: 4, p. 506.

[10] “For since it is into his body the Father has destined those to be engrafted whom he has willed from eternity to be his own, that he may hold as sons all whom he acknowledges to be among his members, we have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life [cf. Revelation 21:27] if we are in communion with Christ.” Calvin, Institutes III: xxiv: 5, p. 970.

[11] “It hence appears, that the paternal love of God is found in Christ, and that nothing certain is known of Christ, except by those who know themselves to be the children of God by his grace. For the Father sets his own Son daily before us for this end, that he may adopt us in him.” Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of John 4: 16, in The Comprehensive John Calvin Collection [CD-ROM] (Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998). From hereon, referred to as AGES.

[12] “These words remind us that the only bond of our union with God is, to be united to Christ; and we are united to him by a faith which is not reigned...” Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John 16: 27, p. 552, AGES. “They also had need of a head, through whose bond they might cleave firmly and undividedly to their God.” Calvin, Institutes II: xii: 1, p. 464.

[13] “How is it that the Father knows his Wisdom? For Christ simply declares that, so far as he is the bond of our union with God, he is placed between Him and us; as if he had said, that it is no more possible for him to forget us, than that he should be rejected or disregarded by the Father.” Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John 10: 15, 364, AGES.

[14] Here, François Wendel’s comment that “the Holy Spirit plays the part of an obligatory mediator between Christ and man, just as the Christ is mediator between God and man” needs to be qualified. See Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. by Philip Mairet (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997), 239-240. While the role of both Christ and the Spirit as distinct “agents” of redemption need to be acknowledged, such an interpretation seems to be contrary to Calvin’s unequivocal insistence that the person and office of the Mediator is proper to Christ alone.

[15]By these words he reminds us how efficacious is that knowledge which he mentions, even because by it we are united to Christ; and become one with God; for it has a living root, fixed in the heart, by which it comes that God lives in us and we in him. As he says, without a copulative, that: we are in him that is true, in his Son, he seems to express the manner of our union with God, as though he had said, that we are in God through Christ.” Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of John 5: 20, AGES.

[16] Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 32, p. 579.

[17] Calvin, Institutes III: vi: 3, p. 687.

[18] Calvin, InstitutesII: xv: 5, p. 500.

[19] The “classical” trinitarian distinction between theologia and oikonomia posits a continuity and discontinuity between God-in-himself and God-in-his-relation-to-the-world. The first ensures that God’s disclosure in time is a true, though not exhaustive, self-disclosure; the second asserts that only God’s existence is self-grounded, whereas creation and redemption are contingent and arise from the will of God. Thus, Karl Rahner’s Grundaxiom - “the economic trinity is the immanent trinity, and vice versa,” when interpreted in the first sense, holds. But to coalesce the distinctions is to run the risk of importing economic categories back into God’s own life, as necessary “conditions” for His self-existence (whether suffering, temporality, or the like) and, ultimately, blurs the Creator-creature distinction.

[20] Calvin, Institutes II: xiv: 3, 485-486.

[21] Calvin, Institutes II: xv: 5, p. 501; xiv: 3, p. 486. By this, Calvin means that Christ “will cease to be the ambassador of His Father,” that is, no longer subordinated to God, but rather, He “will be satisfied with that glory which he enjoyed before the creation of the world.” While Calvin asserts that the office of the Mediator ceases in the Eschaton, Calvin affirms that “the power of his death avails as an everlasting intercession in our behalf [cf. Rom. 8:34], yet in such a way that, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, even to the consummation of the ages [cf. Heb. 9:24ff], he alone bears to God the petitions of the people, who stay far off in the outer court” [emphases mine]. Calvin, III: xx: 20, p. 878.

[22] Calvin, Institutes II: xiv: 3, p. 486. Even though Calvin viewed the incarnation instrumentally (its necessity was due to the need for redemption) and Christ’s mediation in redempto-centric terms, yet he could say, “if man had remained free from all stain, his condition would have been too lowly for him to reach God without a Mediator.” Calvin, Institutes II: xii: 1, p. 465.

[23] According to E. David Willis, Calvin employs the term “Mediator” in reference to Christ in three senses: (1) primarily, as God incarnate; (2) as intermediary between fallen humanity and God before the Incarnation, indirectly as the promise behind prophetic utterances, and directly in the form of an angel in the Old Testament; and (3) as Mediator prior to the Incarnation and the Fall, even had the latter not occurred. See Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-Called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin’s Theology (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966), 68-69

[24] Calvin, Institutes II: xii: 1, p. 464.

[25] With regard to Christ’s anointing in His kingly office, Calvin states “that Christ Kingdom lies in the Spirit.” Calvin, Institutes II: xv: 5, p. 500.

[26] “For we await salvation from him not because he appears to us afar off, but because he makes us, engrafted into his body, participants not only of all his benefits [work] but also in himself [person].” Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 24, p. 570.

[27] Citing Augustine, Calvin notes that, “the goal of faith,” in view of the fact that Christ “was both God and man” is that “namely, as God he is the destination to which we move; as man, the path by which we go.” Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 1, p. 544.

[28] Even St. Basil could argue for the legitimate use of both doxological formulae - “with the Father, together with the Son and the Spirit” and “from the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” – even though, according to T.F. Torrance, Basil regarded the Father as the source of the being and personhood of the other two divine Persons. See Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 29-32.

[29] And as noted above, Christ is referred to as the bond of our union with God in his mediating capacity: “For we have been adopted as sons by the Lord with this one condition: that our life express Christ, the bond of our adoption.” Calvin, Institutes III: vi: 3, p. 687.

[30] Calvin, Institutes II: xvi: 6, p. 502.

[31] Calvin, Institutes II: xiv, 3, p. 485; III: I: 2, p. 539. “One cannot know by any idle speculation what it is, that holy and spiritual union between him and us, and first of all between him and his father, but here is the sole means to that knowledge, when he infuses his life into us by the hidden virtue of his Spirit.” Calvin, Commentary upon John 14:20, Opera omnia quae supersunt (Corpus Reformatoren) (Brunswick, 1863-1900), 331, as quoted by Wendel, Calvin, 239.

[32] So, Wendel wonders “whether the Holy Spirit does not in his [Calvin’s] view occupy a position, in our relations with the Christ, analogous to that of Christ himself in his relations with the Father.” Wendel, Calvin, 239. Positing the Spirit as the bond of union between the Father and the Son (as a result of affirming the filioque) cannot imply that the Spirit exists as another principle of “essential” unity within the immanent Trinity, which diminishes the Father’s position as fons et principium deitatis. Since Calvin does not locate the monarchia in the Father but in the perichoresis of the Persons (as they are autousia), the Father is to be regarded only as the principle of personhood (and not being) within God. A possible interpretation is that the Spirit can be understood as an “energetic” bond between the Father and Son - the common uncreated glory shared by the divine Persons are “enhypostasized” in a special way in the Spirit. This is the divine energy that the elect have a share in which makes participation in God real and ontological, but which, at the same time, does not erase the infinite qualitative distinction between Creator and creature. Such a modified Augustinian position would be able to accommodate the essence-person-energy distinction in Palamism, so that union with the Father and the Son (Jn 17:20-26) can be affirmed in the deepest sense, without having to admit either, on the one hand, human participation in the eternal processions (essential participation) or, on the other, divine personal distinctions in tritheistic terms (intentional participation). This view does not comport with Torrance’s position on this matter. See T.F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives, 38-40.

[33] “Faith in Christ, makes God to dwell in men, and we are partakers of this grace; but as God is love, no one dwells in him except he loves his brethren. Then love ought to reign in us, since God unites himself to us.” Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of John 4: 16, AGES.

[34] Calvin, Institutes III: I: 1, p. 538.

[35] Calvin notes that the terms “hypostasis,” “subsistence,” and “prosopon” can be equally used to “express the same concept by the word “person”.” Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 2, p. 123.

[36] The ancient image of the Trinity as sun, light and heat (Father, Son, Spirit) is appropriated by Calvin (Institutes III: xi: 6, p. 732), in relating the work of justification and sanctification to the Son and Spirit; elsewhere, Christ is described as “ a fountain” of our righteousness (Institutes III: xi: 9, p. 736).

[37] “They are mistaken who hope the Spirit can be obtained apart from obtaining Christ; and it is equally preposterous and deluded to dream that Christ can be laid hold of [percipi] by us without the Spirit. Rather, each of the two must be firmly held onto [atqui utremque tenendum est]. Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 3:17 (1556 ed.), as quoted in Butin, 80.

[38] “But if we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we conceive him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election.” Calvin, Institutes III: xxiv: 5, p. 970.

[39] Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 3:17 (1556 ed.), as quoted in Butin, 80. At the end of his introductory paragraph on the idea of the unio mystica, Calvin states, “To this, also, pertains what we taught in the previous book concerning his anointing.” Calvin, Institutes III: i: 1, 538.

[40] “Accordingly, the bond of our union with Christ is faith, which raises us upwards, and casts its anchor in heaven, so that instead of subjecting Christ to the figments of our reason:, we seek him above in his glory.” Calvin, Selected Works Vol. 2, Tracts Pt. 2, “The Best Method of Obtaining Concord, Provided the Truth be Sought Without Contention,” p. 523. AGES.

[41] “Though then the whole world were roused to a blazing war, yet holiness is not to be forsaken, for it is the bond of our union with God.” Calvin, The Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul The Apostle to the Hebrews 12: 14, pp. 280-281, AGES.

[42] “What else is it, then, than to do injury to the Holy Spirit if we separate faith, which is his peculiar work, from him” [emphasis mine]. Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 39, p. 587, AGES.

[43] “To sum it up: Christ, when he illumines us into faith by the power of his Spirit, at the same time so engrafts us into his body that we become partakers of every good.” Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 35, p. 583.

[44] Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 3:17 (1556 ed.), as quoted in Butin, 80.

[45] “Further, God the Father gives us the Holy Spirit for his Son’s sake, and yet has bestowed the whole fullness of the Spirit upon the Son to be a minister and steward of his liberality.” Calvin, Institutes III: i: 2, p. 538.

[46] Calvin, Institutes II: xv: 5, p. 500.

[47] Calvin, Institutes II: xv: 5, p. 500.

[48] Calvin, Institutes II: xv: 2, p. 496;

[49] Calvin, Institutes III: I: 1, p. 537. “But he unites himself to us by the Spirit alone. By the grace and the power of the same Spirit we are made his members, to keep us under himself and in turn to possess him” [emphases mine]. Calvin, III: I: 3, p. 541. Butin notes this “bi-directionality” of the Spirit’s work in divine revelation and human response. Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response, 84.

[50] “It is as if one said that the saints are gathered into the society of Christ on the principle of that whatever benefits God confers upon them, they should in turn share with one another.” Calvin, Institutes IV: I: 3, p. 1014.

[51] “If truly convinced that God is the common Father of all and Christ the common Head, being united in brotherly love, they cannot but share their benefits with one another... So powerful is participation in the church that it keeps us in the society of God.” Calvin, Institutes IV: I: 3, p. 1015. “The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect.” Calvin, Institutes IV: I: 17, p. 1031.

[52] Calvin, Institutes IV: xv: 6, p. 1308.

[53] “Meanwhile, however, I acknowledge that Jesus Christ not only justifies us by cowering [sic] all our faults and sins, but also sanctifies us by his Spirit, so that the two things (the free forgiveness of sins and reformation to a holy life) cannot be dissevered and separated from each other.”

[54] “Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond... Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself.” Calvin, Institutes III: xvi: 1, p. 798.

[55] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 2, p. 726-7

[56] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 6, p. 732.

[57] “Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ [justification]? You must first possess Christ [union]; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces [1 Cor 1:13]” [emphasis mine]. Calvin, Institutes III: xvi: 1, p. 798. See also, III: xi: 6, p. 732, where Calvin asserts that “as Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable - namely, righteousness and sanctification.”

[58] “But if the brightness of the sun cannot be separated from its heat, shall we therefore say that the earth is warmed by its light, or lighted by its heat? ... Here is a mutual and indivisible connection. Yet reason itself forbids us to transfer the peculiar qualities of the one to the other. In this confusion of the two kinds of grace that Osiander forces upon us there is a like absurdity.” Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 6, p. 732.

[59] Dennis E. Tamburello includes these metaphors, and not “putting on Christ”, or “clothed in Christ”, as references to union with Christ: engrafting, communion, fellowship, one flesh/spiritual marriage, spiritual union, mystical union, growing together/becoming one, union with God, adoption, regeneration, partakers of Christ See “Appendix,” Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Columbia Series in Reformed Theology. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 111-113.

[60] Calvin, Institutes III: I: 1, p. 537. Here, the conceptual distinction is not that of an “in Christ” (justification) and “in us” (sanctification) contrast. In distinguishing righteousness and holiness using the “epidermal” and “organic” metaphors, we are positing more of a Christological/pneumatological contrast. Nonetheless, the in Christo/in nobis pair can be interpreted as the effects of the unio mystica. The first needs no qualification. The second can be read this way: Being “engrafted” into Christ, his life flows into us through the regenerating and indwelling Spirit for holiness - the bond of union is regarded as the active, intrinsic principle of new life in the saint.

[61] Calvin, Institutes III: I: 3, p. 541.

[62] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 1, p. 725. “Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins - that is, newness of life [sanctification] and free reconciliation [justification] - are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith.” Calvin, Institutes III: iii: 1, p. 592.

[63] “Therefore, “to justify” means nothing else than to acquit of guilt him who was accused, as if his innocence were confirmed.” Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 3, p. 728.

[64] “Only let us remember this, — that those to whom righteousness is imputed, are justified; since these two things are mentioned by Paul as being the same. We hence conclude that the question is not, what men are in themselves, but how God regards them? not that purity of conscience and integrity of life are to be separated from the gratuitous favor of God; but that when the reason is asked, why God loves us and owns us as just, it is necessary that Christ should come forth as one who clothes us with his own righteousness” [emphases mine]. Calvin, Epistle to the Romans 4:3, p. 66, AGES.

[65] “Hence they speak correctly and truly express what the Holy Spirit everywhere teaches us, who call it imputative righteousness, for they thus show that it is not a quality, but, on the contrary, a relative righteousness, and therefore we said yesterday that he who lives by faith derives life from another, and that every one who is just by faith, is just through what is not in himself, even through the gratuitous mercy of God.” Commentary on the Prophet of Habakkuk 2: 4, “Lecture 111,” AGES.

[66] But we define justification as follows: the sinner, received into communion with Christ, is reconciled to God by his grace while, cleansed by Christ’s blood, he obtains forgiveness of sins, and clothed with Christ’s righteousness as if it were his own, he stands confident before the heavenly judgment seat.” Calvin, Institutes III: xvii: 8, p. 812.

[67] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 2, p. 726-7.

[68] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 2, p. 726-7.

[69] Calvin, Institutes III: xii: 1, p. 753-4.

[70] “For Christ’s righteousness, which as it alone is perfect alone can bear the sight of God, must appear in court on our behalf, and stand surety in judgment... Covered with this purity, the sordidness and uncleanness of our imperfections are not ascribed to us but are hidden as if buried that they may not come into God’s judgment, until the hour arrives when, the old man slain and clearly destroyed in us, the divine goodness will receive us into blessed peace with the new Adam.Calvin, Institutes III: xiv: 11, p. 779.

[71] To be fair, it must be said that Calvin is much more consistent in applying the “epidermal” metaphor in relation to justification than the “engrafting” image to sanctification. Hence, there are occasions where he does say that the ground of the saints’ salvation lies in the fact that “being engrafted in the body of Christ, they are freely accounted righteous.” Here the in Christo/in nobis contrast seem to be functioning since Calvin here is denying that justification takes place through the gift of regeneration, as it is always imperfect in this flesh” [emphases mine]. Calvin, Institutes III: xiv: 5, p. 768.

[72] “From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness... because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation.” Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 23, p. 753.

[73] “Moreover, he teaches the way in which righteousness is to be obtained: namely, when our sins are not counted against us.” Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 22, p. 752.

[74] “Therefore, since God justifies us by the intercession of Christ, he absolves us not by the confirmation of our own innocence but by the imputation of righteousness, so that we who are not righteous in ourselves may be reckoned as such in Christ” [emphasis mine]. Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 3,

[75] Calvin, Institutes III:xi: 1, p. 725. “Under this curse must necessarily lie all who are judged by works — none being exempted save those who entirely renounce all confidence in works, and put on Christ, that they may be justified in Him, by the gratuitous acceptance of God. The ground of our justification, therefore, is, that God reconciles us to himself, from regard not to our works, but to Christ alone, and, by gratuitous adoption, makes us, instead of children of wrath, to be his own children.” Selected Works of John Calvin, Vol 1, Tracts, Part 1, Article 23, p. 225, AGES.

[76] Calvin points to the inter-relations between baptism, the Church, union and adoption: “Baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.” Calvin, Institutes IV: xv: 1: p. 1303.

[77] “[T]he end of regeneration is that Christ should reform us to God’s image.” Calvin, Institutes I: xv: 4, p. 189.

[78] Calvin, Institutes III: iii: 8-9, pp. 600-601.

[79] Calvin, Institutes III: iii: 20, p. 615. “And, just as the twig draws substance and nourishment from the root to which it is grafted, so those who receive baptism with right faith truly feel the effective working of Christ’s death in the mortification of their flesh, together with the working of resurrection in the vivification of the Spirit [Rm. 6:8].” Calvin, Institutes IV: xv: 5, p. 1307.

[80] Calvin, Commentary on Romans 6:5, p. 171.

[81] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 1, p. 725.

[82] “Finally, since there is no sanctification apart from communion with Christ, it is evident that they are evil trees; they can bear fruits beautiful and comely to the sight, and even sweet to the taste, but not at all good.” Calvin, Institutes III: xiv: 4, p. 771. Hence, repentance follows faith and “flows from it, or is produced by it as fruit from a tree.” Calvin, Institutes III, iii: 1: p. 593.

[83] Calvin, Institutes III: i: 2, p. 538.

[84] Calvin, Institutes III: xiv, 19: p. 786.

[85] Calvin, Institutes III: iii: 16, p. 609.

[86] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 9, p. 736. See also Butin, 70-71.

[87] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 8, p. 734.

[88] This rule, as it applies to the economy of the Trinity, arises from the fact that, ontologically, the three divine persons are synonymous with the divine essence. Thus, Calvin asserts that “it is clear from our writings that we do not separate the persons from the essence, but we distinguish among them while they remain within it.” Calvin, Institutes I: xiii: 25, pp. 153-154.

[89] “I confess that we are justified by faith, inasmuch as by it we apprehend Jesus Christ the Mediator given us by the Father, and lean on the promises of the gospel, by which God declares that we are regarded as righteous, and free from every stain, because our sins have been washed away by the blood of his Son.” Calvin, Selected Works Vol. 2, Tracts Pt. 2, “Brief Form of a Confession of Faith,” p. 128, AGES.

[90] “Now the term sanctification denotes separation. This takes place in us when we are regenerated by the Spirit to newness of life, that we may serve God and not the world. For while by nature we are unholy, the Spirit consecrates us to God. As, however, this is effected when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, apart from whom there is nothing but pollution, and as it is also by Christ, and not from any other source that the Spirit is conferred, it is with good reason that he says that we are sanctified in Christ, inasmuch as it is by Him that we cleave to God, and in Him become new creatures.” Calvin, Commentary on First Corinthians, 1:1, AGES.

[91] Calvin, The Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul The Apostle to the Hebrews 4: 10, AGES. The Spirit of sanctification is the principle of holy living “for as the life of the soul is our union with God, so they who are alienated from him through sin may be justly deemed to be dead.” Calvin, The Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul The Apostle to the Hebrews 9: 14, AGES.

[92] “But such a delirium as this never entered the minds of the holy Apostles; they only intended to say that when divested of all the vices of the flesh, we shall be partakers of divine and blessed immortality and glory, so as to be as it were one with God as far as our capacities will allow. This doctrine was not altogether unknown to Plato, who everywhere defines the chief good of man to be an entire conformity to God; but as he was involved in the mists of errors, he afterwards glided off' to his own inventions.” Calvin, Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter 1:4, AGES.

[93] Calvin, Institutes I: xv: 5, p. 191. In charging Servetus of committing the Manichean error in confusing human and divine substance, Calvin asserts that “creation is not inpouring, but the beginning of essence out of nothing.”

[94] Bernard McGinn has noted examines the notion of mystical union in the thought of medieval Catholic mystics, and the highlights particularly the “essentialist” mysticism of writers like Meister Eckhart, which had some influence on Rusbroek and Tauler, but not Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard McGinn, “Love, Knowledge, and Mystical Union in Western Christianity: Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries,” in Church History 56 (March 1987), 7-24

[95] Partee, “Calvin’s Central Dogma Again,” 198.

[96] As we have noted above, while Calvin disengages his theology from any Platonic mysticism, he does admit that salvation, in a sense, is imitation of God.

[97] Calvin, Institutes III: xi: 5, p. 730.

[98] Calvin, Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter 1:4, AGES.

[99] “If we place ourselves at the point of view of Christological doctrine, we may, however, wonder whether, by thus accentuating the distinction between the two natures, he [Calvin] did not endanger the fundamental unity of the person of Christ, and whether some of the affirmations he made would not tend towards somewhat unorthodox conclusions.” Wendel, Calvin, p. 224-225. See also, Bruce L. McCormack, “For Us and Our Salvation: Incarnation and Atonement in the Reformed tradition.” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 43, Nos. 1-4 (1998), p. 288.

[100] “But since Christ, who was true God and also true man, was crucified and shed his blood for us, the things that he carried out in his human nature are transferred improperly, although not without reason, to his divinity” [emphasis mine]. Calvin, Institutes II: xiv: 2, p. 484. McCormack, p. 287.

[101] “Yet he does not ascribe these [human] qualities solely to his human nature, but takes them upon himself as being in harmony with the person of the Mediator… But because the selfsame one was both God and man, for the sake of the union of both natures he gave to the one what belonged to the other.” Calvin, Institutes II: xiv: 2, p. 484.

[102] Calvin, Institutes II: xiv: 3, p. 485.

[103] Calvin, Institutes IV: xvii: 8, p. 1369. Referring to Jn. 6:48, 51, 52, Calvin comments, “By these words he teaches not only that he is life since he is the eternal Word of God, who came down from heaven to us, but also that by coming down he poured that power upon the flesh which he took in order that from it participation in life might flow into us.” Ibid, p. 1368.

[104] “Carried up into heaven, therefore, he withdrew his bodily presence from our sight [Acts 1:9], not to cease to be present with believers still on their earthly pilgrimage, but to rule heaven and earth with a more immediate power. But by his ascension he fulfilled what he had promised: that he would be with us even to the end of the world, bas his body was raised up above all the heavens, so his power and energy were diffused and spread beyond all the bounds of heaven and earth.” Calvin, Institutes II : xvi: 14, p. 523.

[105] Calvin, Institutes IV: xvii: 9, p. 1369.

[106] Calvin, Commentary on the Ephesians, 2:6, AGES.

[107] “While this distinction is clearly expressed in the Agreement, Westphal pretends that I transfer the name of substance to the use and virtue of the flesh of Christ, abstracting the substance itself. There is little modesty in this, unless he can persuade others that that to which I assign the first place is reduced to nothing. Still I disguise not that my doctrine differs widely from his fiction of the present substance of the body. It is one thing to say that the substance of Christ is present in the bread to give life to us, and another to say, that the flesh of Christ gives us life, because life flows from its substance into our souls.” Calvin, Selected Works Vol. 2, Tracts Pt. 2, “Second Defence of the Pious and Orthodox Faith Concerning the Sacraments, in Answer to the Calumnies of Joachim Westphal,” p. 272. AGES.

[108] Calvin, Institutes III: ii: 24, pp. 570-571.

[109] Calvin, Institutes III: I: 1, p. 537. That is to say, the integrity and significance of Christ’s perfect substitutionary work on earth is grounded in Christ’s person alone. Only through union with Christ do we participate in the energies of his personhood, and thus, benefit from his atoning mission.

[110] In presenting Calvin’s “transaction Christology,” Lewis Smedes highlights a tension, which he observes between his sacramentology and Christology: “When he was preoccupied with his defense of a genuinely effective sacrament... he talked of the life of God being siphoned into the humanity of Christ and from there tapped into ours. But when he spoke of Jesus Christ, he let the offices, the action of Jesus dominate.” See All Things Made New: A Theology of Man’s Union with Chris (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), p. 23.

[111] According to Calvin, the mystical union is cosmic in scope, in this sense: “Men had been lost, and angels were not beyond the reach of danger. By gathering both into his own body, Christ hath united them to God the Father, and established actual harmony between heaven and earth.” Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians 1: 10, AGES.

[112] “Yet since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits” [emphasis mine]. Calvin, Institutes III: i: 1, p. 537.

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There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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