Archive Authors Calvin E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Calvin the Cappadocian

In Q/A 25 of the Geneva Catechism, commenting on the Apostles’ Creed, John Calvin strikes the note (for the children!) of the majority of the Christian tradition, given great emphasis by, e.g., Gregory of Nazianzus: God’s essence is unknowable to us and incomprehensible. We therefore know him from his works and his effects–from the ways in which he has revealed himself in the world. 

Indeed, the cosmos is a “mirror” of God–nay, perhaps it is even sacramental! We hear often that the “Protestant imagination,” which doesn’t even, like, exist because Protestants are terrible with words due to their evacuation of divinity from the world, needs a set of middling 20th century Anglo-American novelists to remedy its enchantment deficit. In reality, of course, this is all absurd, but that is not my subject here.

My subject here is just to note a convenient place where Calvin summarizes what he says everywhere, viz., that the world is the theater of God and his fingerprints are everywhere visible in it; in that sense, it is “graced.” God’s “visibility” in the world, and his cognizability there, is a result of his condescension: the loving condescension of the infinite on behalf the finite who cannot know him in his unlimited and unfathomable essence. 

When Hopkins solmenly intones that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” just remember that he is cribbing Calvin. But that’s ok: almsgiving, as a part of charity, is a Christian duty, and Calvin would have been happy to share with others what they need, knowing that all he has is from grace, for grace.

Q25 Master. Why do you add “Creator of heaven and earth”?

Scholar. As he has manifested himself to us by works, (Romans 1:20,) in these too we ought to seek him. Our mind cannot take in his essence. The world itself is, therefore, a kind of mirror in which we may view him in so far as it concerns us to know.


By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.