“How is it possible to know anything at all?” John Calvin gives his answer to this timeless question in Chapters 1-3 of his Institutes. His theory of epistemology is based on his belief that humans are naturally aware of God. He also asserts two fundamental knowledges- God and self- and he elaborates upon the relationship between the two.
Biography of John Calvin
Birth and childhood
Schooling and further education
Early works and accomplishments
How is it possible to know anything?
brief introduction of the Institutes
Calvin’s theory of epistemology
Humans have a natural awareness of God.
knowledge of God
requires knowledge of self
knowledge of Self requires knowledge of God
man in comparison to God
evil vs. good
John Calvin, born in 1509 in Noyon France, played a very significant role in the Protestant Reformation.1 Today Calvin is recognized as one of the most influential persons in the Reformation, aside from Martin Luther. He was born into a family of the Roman Catholic Church in northern Europe, where his father, Gerard, worked for many years in multiple positions in the church, eventually moving into an office under the bishop as his secretary.2 It is no surprise then, that Calvin also became very involved in the church. Calvin got his education from The University of Paris when he was only fourteen.3 There he studied at the College de Montaigu in the theology department.4 Humanism was a big focus around this time, rather than scholasticism (during the Middle Ages this was the prominent theology of the Catholics). Even though there was a large movement for church reforms, Gerard Calvin advised John to study law rather than pursue theology after they severed ties with the church. In obedience to this, he did so, and three years later, after studying in Bourges, Orleans, and Paris, he came earned a Jurists Doctorate in law.5 Wanting more, Calvin moved to Paris soon after his father’s death. There, he sought more education, and opted to further his intellectual career. Years later in 1536, Institutes of the Christian Religion, was released by Calvin himself in Basel, Switzerland.6 To this day, it remains one of the most important and influential literary works regarding theology. This piece also made Calvin known as a key follower of Protestantism. His theory of epistemology is based on his belief that humans are naturally aware of God. He also asserts two fundamental knowledges- God and self- and he elaborates upon the relationship between the two.7 How is it possible to know anything at all? Theologians and philosophers across the ages have contemplated, debated, and wrote about this timeless question. There have been many proposed theories, and many still exist while others have been modified, or totally abandoned. As Christians, we like to use “God” as the answer for everything we do not understand, so one might respond, “God allows us to know things.” Okay, yes, in a sense, because He is absolutely sovereign, so anything at all that ever occurs happens with his permission.8 While this simplistic answer may be enough for the average mind, a great thinker such as John Calvin would never be satisfied with such an underdeveloped theory. The original Latin edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion appeared in 1536 with a preface addressed to King Francis I of France, “written on behalf of the French Protestants (Huguenots) who were being persecuted. Most often, references to the Institutes are to Calvin's final Latin edition of 1559, which was significantly expanded and revised from earlier editions. The Institutes are a primary historical reference for the system of doctrine adopted by the Reformed churches, usually called Calvinism.”9 When chapters one through three are read in a slightly different order it becomes clearer what exactly John Calvin’s views on the...
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