Thursday Theology on Friday

Yesterday was busy and today is heading the same way. Briggs is continuing with Aquinas, dealing with the followers of Arius, and their errors, but Calvin is moving onto something quite topical at present: the role of people who align with evil within the plans of God.

First the Summa.

1 From these considerations, of course, it appears that the points from Scripture which both Photinus and Sabellius used to bring up in support of their opinions cannot confirm their errors.
2 For what our Lord says after the resurrection, “All power has been given to Me in heaven and in earth” (Mat. 2-8: 18), is not said for this reason: that at that time He had newly received this power; but for this reason: that the power which the Son of God had eternally received had—because of the victory He had had over death by resurrection—begun to appear in the same Son made man.
3 Now, as to the Apostle’s word concerning the Son, “Who was made to Him of the seed of David” (Rom. 1:3), one sees clearly how it should be understood from the addition: “according to the flesh.” For he did not say that the Son of God had been made simply, but that He had been made of the seed of David, according to the flesh,” by the assumption of human nature as John (1:14) puts it: “The Word was made flesh.” Hence, also, the following phrase—“Who was predestinated the Son of God in power”—clearly refers to the Son in His human nature. For, that a human nature he united to the Son of God, that thus a man could be called the Son of God, was not a matter of human merit. It was by the grace of God’s predestination.
4 In a, similar fashion, what the Apostle says in Philippians, “God exalted Christ through the merit of His passion,” must be referred to the human nature; the humility of the passion was in this human nature. Hence, also, what follows—“He has given Him a name which is above all names”—must be referred to this: the name belonging to the Son in His eternal birth had to be manifested in the peoples’ faith as belonging to the incarnate Son.
5 In this way it also is plain that what Peter says, “God has made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus,” (Acts 2:36), must be referred to the Son in His human nature; in which He began to have temporally what He had in the nature of divinity eternally.
6 The point which Sabellius introduces on the unity of the Deity—“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” and “See that I alone am, and there is no other God besides Me”—is not hostile to the teaching of the Catholic faith, which holds that the Father and the Son are not two gods, but one God, as we said before.
7 In the same way, the sayings, “The Father who abides in Me, He does the works,” and “I am in the Father and the Father in Me,” do not show a unity of person, as Sabellius chose to understand, but that unity of essence which Arius denied. For, if there were one person of the Father and the Son, one could not say suitably that the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, since properly the same supposit is not said to be in its very self; this is said only with reference to its parts.
For, seeing that parts are in a whole, and that what is proper to parts can be attributed to a whole, sometimes a whole is said to he in itself. But this manner of speech does not suit speech about divinity, in which there can be no parts, as was shown in Book I. It remains true, then, that, when the Father is said to be in the Son and the Son in the Father, the Father and Son are not identical in supposit.
One can see from this that the essence of the Father and the Son is one. For, once this is given, it is very clear in what way the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. For, since the Father is His essence, because in God essence is not other than what has essence, as we showed in Book I, it follows that in anything in which the essence of the Father is the Father is; and by the same reasoning in anything in which the essence of the Son is the Son is. Hence, since the essence of the Father is in the Son and the essence of the Son in the Father, because the essence of each of the two is one essence (as the Catholic faith teaches), it clearly follows that the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Thus, the selfsame saying (John 14:11) confutes the error of Sabellius as well as that of Arius.

One of the connections here relates to the evil people in Scripture. All scripture is of benefit to us, including those parts which say Here be an idiot. This is what not to do. In a similar, the errors made by ancient theological speculation are rediscovered by many, who then get annoyed by theological geeks who say something akin to “Arius said that it it was wrong in ths way” quoting documents eight hundred or eighteen hundred years old.

There is nothing new under the sun. Anyway, onto Chapter 18 of Book One of the Institutes.

1. From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the actions of men. If God is the arbiter of peace and war, as is there said, and that without any exception, who will venture to say that men are borne along at random with a blind impulse, while He is unconscious or quiescent? But the matter will be made clearer by special examples. From the first chapter of Job we learn that Satan appears in the presence of God to receive his orders, just as do the angels who obey spontaneously. The manner and the end are different, but still the fact is, that he cannot attempt anything without the will of God. But though afterwards his power to afflict the saint seems to be only a bare permission, yet as the sentiment is true, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so it has been done,” we infer that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and wicked robbers were merely the instruments. Satan’s aim is to drive the saint to madness by despair. The Sabeans cruelly and wickedly make a sudden incursion to rob another of his goods. Job acknowledges that he was deprived of all his property, and brought to poverty, because such was the pleasure of God. Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself devise, God holds the helm, and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of his Judgments. God wills that the perfidious Ahab should be deceived; the devil offers his agency for that purpose, and is sent with a definite command to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets (2 Kings 22:20). If the blinding and infatuation of Ahab is a Judgment from God, the fiction of bare permission is at an end; for it would be ridiculous for a judge only to permit, and not also to decree, what he wishes to be done at the very time that he commits the execution of it to his ministers. The Jews purposed to destroy Christ. Pilate and the soldiers indulged them in their fury; yet the disciples confess in solemn prayer that all the wicked did nothing but what the hand and counsel of God had decreed (Acts 4:28), just as Peter had previously said in his discourse, that Christ was delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23); in other words, that God, to whom all things are known from the beginning, had determined what the Jews had executed. He repeats the same thing elsewhere, “Those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled,” (Acts 4:18). Absalom incestuously defiling his father’s bed, perpetrates a detestable crime. God, however, declares that it was his work; for the words are, “Thou midst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” The cruelties of the Chaldeans in Judea are declared by Jeremiah to be the work of God. For which reason, Nebuchadnezzar is called the servant of God. God frequently exclaims, that by his hiss, by the clang of his trumpet, by his authority and command, the wicked are excited to war. He calls the Assyrian the rod of his anger, and the axe which he wields in his hand. The overthrow of the city and downfall of the temple, he calls his own work. David, not murmuring against God, but acknowledging him to be a just judge, confesses that the curses of Shimei are uttered by his orders. “The Lord,” says he, “has bidden him curse.” Often in sacred history whatever happens is said to proceed from the Lord, as the revolt of the ten tribes, the death of Eli’s sons, and very many others of a similar description. Those who have a tolerable acquaintance with the Scriptures see that, with a view to brevity, I am only producing a few out of many passages, from which it is perfectly clear that it is the merest trifling to substitute a bare permission for the providence of God, as if he sat in a watch-tower waiting for fortuitous events, his Judgments meanwhile depending on the will of man.
2. With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God. And certainly, did he not work internally in the minds of men, it could not have been properly said, that he takes away the lip from the true, and prudence from the aged—takes away the heart from the princes of the earth, that they wander through devious paths. To the same effect, we often read that men are intimidated when He fills their hearts with terror. Thus David left the camp of Saul while none knew of its because a sleep from God had fallen upon all. But nothing can be clearer than the many passages which declare, that he blinds the minds of men, and smites them with giddiness, intoxicates them with a spirit of stupor, renders them infatuated, and hardens their hearts. Even these expressions many would confine to permissions as if, by deserting the reprobate, he allowed them to be blinded by Satan. But since the Holy Spirit distinctly says, that the blindness and infatuation are inflicted by the just Judgment of God, the solution is altogether inadmissible. He is said to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh, to have hardened it yet more, and confirmed it. Some evade these forms of expression by a silly cavil, because Pharaoh is elsewhere said to have hardened his own heart, thus making his will the cause of hardening it; as if the two things did not perfectly agree with each other, though in different senses—viz. that man, though acted upon by God, at the same time also acts. But I retort the objection on those who make it. If to harden means only bare permission, the contumacy will not properly belong to Pharaoh. Now, could any thing be more feeble and insipid than to interpret as if Pharaoh had only allowed himself to be hardened? We may add, that Scripture cuts off all handle for such cavils: “I,” saith the Lord, “will harden his heart,” (Exod. 4:21). So also, Moses says of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, that they went forth to battle because the Lord had hardened their hearts (Josh. 11:20). The same thing is repeated by another prophet, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). In like manner, in Isaiah, he says of the Assyrian, “I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey,” (Isaiah 10:6); not that he intends to teach wicked and obstinate man to obey spontaneously, but because he bends them to execute his Judgments, just as if they carried their orders engraven on their minds. And hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of God. I admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only in so far as he is permitted. The evil spirit that troubled Saul is said to be from the Lord (1 Sam. 16:14), to intimate that Saul’s madness was a just punishment from God. Satan is also said to blind the minds of those who believe not (2 Cor. 4:4). But how so, unless that a spirit of error is sent from God himself, making those who refuse to obey the truth to believe a lie? According to the former view, it is said, “If the prophet be deceived when he has spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet,” (Ezek. 14:9). According to the latter view, he is said to have given men over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28), because he is the special author of his own just vengeance; whereas Satan is only his minister (see Calv. in Ps. 141:4). But as in the Second Book (Chap. 4 sec. 3, 4), in discussing the question of man’s freedom, this subject will again be considered, the little that has now been said seems to be all that the occasion requires. The sum of the whole is this,—since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

If God cannot bend the will of any, it is no good praying to him, for our enemies do have spiritual backup by the legions of hell themselves. But if God can over rule, then it is makes complete sense to pray, giving thanks for the good we had today, and asking that we are preserved from temptation, and remain abiding in Christ.

But if God did not spare Israel from their apostasy, will he spare the West, who have despised something greater than the law, Christ himself? Like Daniel, we will have to confess that our difficulties are just consequences of our actions.

And those who blame God forget that we have offended him more than any percieved injustice has offended us.