Archive Eric Parker Natural Law Nota Bene

Melanchthon’s Commentary on Romans & Proofs for the Existence of God

Many TCI readers will be pleased to know that the second edition of Philip Melanchthon’s Commentary on Romans published by Concordia Publishing House back in 2010 is now available on Amazon in ebook format for only $9.99. The second edition is a reprint of the first edition with Fred Kramer’s translation from 1992 which had gone out of print. Melanchthon first published his commentary in 1532. This edition is based on the revised text of 1540. One of the more interesting sections of this commentary are Melanchthon’s summaries of proofs for the existence of God from his commentary on Romans 1:19-20. These are not necessarily interesting for their persuasiveness (they are just summaries) but for their place in connecting the Protestant natural law tradition to its Medieval and Classical predecessors. As an incentive to purchase and study this commentary I’ve listed Melanchthon’s proofs below from the 2nd edition:

Melanchthon’s Summary of 9 Proofs for God’s Existence

In the Book of Acts it is written that God is so near to us that it is almost possible to touch him with our hands [cf. Acts 17:27]. And it is not in vain that so many footprints of God are imprinted on nature. God wants to remind us through these marks. He wants them to be considered, and the author acknowledged. Therefore let students seek out these vestiges, but in such a way that they hold fast the rule, namely, the Word of God. Surely it is useful for strengthening good opinions to hold fast to the true reasonings fixed in the mind, which testify that God is the founder and preserver of things. And a learned student of nature will be able aptly to learn many things. The philosophers who treated physical science skillfully thought more honorably about God, as for instance Galen. On the contrary, the Epicureans, even as they confused physical matters, did not want to look upon the footprints of God in nature and therefore wildly professed those Cyclopean ideas about God. Therefore I shall briefly recite nine arguments from nature which testify that God is the founder and preserver of things.

1. The most outstanding testimonies about God are the human mind, and the distinction between what is honorable and what is shameful which is impressed on the mind. From this is taken the argument: Man has a mind; man originated from elsewhere; therefore it is necessary that he have sprung from some eternal mind, because it is impossible that the mind should have originated from unreasoning nature. Of this argument also the Psalm [94:9] reminds us: “He that made the eye, shall he not see.…”

2. The distinction between things that are honorable and things that are shameful is naturally known to the human mind. This cannot have come into existence by chance or have flowed forth from unreasoning nature. Therefore it is necessary to confess that God is the originator. This argument no one can shake, even if Cyclopeans, Giants, Epicureans, Academicians, or followers of Mezentius come together and attempt to make war against heaven with combined powers. They must confess that the distinction between honorable and shameful things did not come into existence by chance, but was ordained by some mind.

3. When atrocious crimes are committed, all men naturally are afraid and judge that there is a God, and that he punishes transgressions. Therefore both concepts are implanted in the human mind, both that there is a God, and that he punishes crimes. No matter how much Mezentius rages, he must often be terrified by the consciousness of his crimes. There is a shout in his mind—even if he fights against it—that there is a God who avenges crimes. Otherwise, why does not the mind truly rejoice after an atrocious crime, even as it truly rejoices when it remembers what was rightly done?

4. From the order of things in all nature, we see how sure are the laws that govern the movements of the heavenly bodies, how certain the number of species, and that like propagates like, not some promiscuously from others. We see the ultimate causes of things. All things are born for some use. Also there is a wonderful agreement of superior and inferior bodies. The movements of the heavenly bodies bring about sure alternations between summer and winter for the good of the living. Why are springs and streams ever-flowing? Why the distribution of the individual parts in the human body? Why the recognition of the number and order? Do they not testify clearly that nature did not come into existence by chance, but that they had their origin in some eternal mind? It is impossible that these things always came about as a result of chance. It is impossible that the concepts of number and order originated by chance, or from material things. O, how blind are the minds of men which are not moved by such clear arguments—by such definite footprints of divinity—to think better about God and to revere him!

5. To the consideration of order belongs also a consideration of political order. In this also there shines forth the wisdom and goodness of God, for human nature has been created for society, because it is bound together by many bonds, contracts, pacts, judgments, powers, and punishments. This whole order bears witness that the human race did not come into being by chance.

6. From the punishments of murderers and the preservation and overturning of governments, it is clear that murderers are subject to penalties, not through human diligence but divinely, in order that a society of life may be preserved. Thus it is manifest that governments were established not by human powers, but by a divine being, and that they are again overturned on account of tyrannies and lusts, because God punishes heinous crimes in the civil society. For example, Tarquin was driven out, and the Lacedemonians were conquered when they had forcibly violated the daughters of a stranger and afterward killed them.

7. From the indications of future things. There are many certain indications in nature, either of the stars or of inferior bodies, and most certain and perpetual experience testifies that a coming together of wet stars in wet signs signifies rains and storms. Likewise, many signs appear without definite regularity but nevertheless signify something. Also there are true prophecies, such as those of Daniel about the sequence of kingdoms. These significations cannot have proceeded save from some eternal mind.

8. Heroic impulses are impulses that transcend human nature, and happen to men because of some great thing, as for instance from the founding of governments, or for illustrating skills useful for life. Therefore they arise from some superior nature and intelligence.

9. From the chain of causes. Causes are ordered in nature, so that it is necessary to go back to one first cause which is not set in motion from elsewhere, but moves the others. If it is the first, it is necessary that it have the power to move itself; therefore it is of infinite power. And it is necessary that there be a first one, for otherwise there would be no succession of causes if they were scattered endlessly. This argument is treated at length in physics and is sufficiently established. But the earlier arguments are superior. They are taken from the nature of the mind, from the distinction between honorable and shameful things, and from order in nature and in society. These indeed testify not only that God is the creator, but also the avenger, and they invite us to fear God. Therefore let young people make up their minds with such considerations. But the more diligently we consider these arguments, the more we agree with them, as Plato says and as we ourselves experience. Students should know that all these arguments are laws of nature which teach that we should acknowledge God to be the founder of all things, and that we owe him obedience. And that is how Paul makes use of this subject. Although above in the proposition he accuses all men, he now makes a distinction. First he preaches to the Gentiles, and then afterward to the Jews. He says that the Gentiles are under sin because although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor give him thanks.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.