All truth is God’s truth: Calvin on philosophy and theology
John Calvin, Tracts and Letters, 5.212-13. As usual, bold comes from me:
As truth is most precious, so all men confess it to be so. And yet, since God alone is the source of all good . . . whatever truth you anywhere meet with, proceeds from him. . . . For it is sinful to treat God’s gifts with contempt; and to ascribe to man what is peculiarly God’s is a still greater impiety. Philosophy is, consequently, the noble gift of God, and those learned men who have striven hard after it in all ages have been incited thereto by God himself, that they might enlighten the world in the knowledge of the truth. But there is a wide difference between the writings of these men and those truths which God, of his own pleasure, delivered to guilty men for their sanctification. In the former, you may fall in with a small particle of truth, of which you can get only a taste, sufficient to make you feel how pleasant and sweet it is; but in the latter, you may obtain in rich abundance that which can refresh the soul to the full. In the one, a shadow and an image is places before the eyes which can only excite in you a love of the object, without admitting you to familiar intercourse with it; in the other, the solid substance stands before you, with which you may not only become intimately acquainted, but may also, in some measure, handle it. In that, the seed is in a manner choked; in this, you may possess the fruit in its very maturity. There, in short, only a few small sparks break forth, which so point out the path that they fail in the middle of the journey, - or rather, which fail in indicating the path at all, - and can only restrain the traveller from going farther astray; but here, the Spirit of God, like a most brilliant torch, or rather like the sun itself, shines in full splendour, not only to guide the course of your life, even to its final goal, but also to conduct you to a blessed immortality.I think Calvin’s comments here raise a number of questions, chief among them is this: Granted that all truth is God’s truth, are there perhaps different kinds of truth? Might not theological truth and philosophical truth refer to (potentially) overlapping but fundamentally different alethic spheres? Furthermore, what exactly is the relationship between God as the source of all truth and those truths themselves? Is this a logically necessary relation, or is it contingently so?
Calvin never fails to provide good food for thought.