The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

NINE
Fides and Cognitio in Relation to
the Problem of Intellect and Will
in the Theology of John Calvin

The Problem of “Intellectualism” in the Study of Calvin's
Definitions of Faith

Virtually all of the studies of Calvin's concept of faith have declared, and rightly so, that Calvin could not conceive of faith apart from knowledge. 1 In his continuous polemic against the scholastic doctrine of fides implicita, Calvin had defined faith as “a certain and from knowledge” 2 or, in the more familiar form given in the Institutes from 1539 on, “a firm and certain knowledge of divine benevolence toward us. ” 3 Nonetheless, from the very beginning of his theological career, Calvin had indicated another dimension of faith, trust or “fiducia. ” 4 Calvin insisted that faith not only was a matter of “believing God” but consisted also in “believing in God”: to have faith was “not only to count as true all that has been written and said about God and Christ, but to place all hope and trust in God and Christ. ” 5 Indeed, he could define faith as a “firm and solid confidence of heart” as distinct from a mere knowledge lodged in the “brain. ” 6

Recent scholarship has emphasized Calvin's association of faith (fides) with knowledge (cognitio), but has neglected the implications of his reference, from nearly the beginning of his theological work, to the fiducial aspect of faith. Among the more recent monographs, that of Schützeichel denominates knowledge as essentially a synonym for faith in Calvin's thought and argues that the concept of “certainty” is the center of Calvin's teaching. 7 Shepherd's study calls knowledge “essential” to faith in Calvin's theology. 8 We note also Krusche's thesis that the underlying thrust of all of Calvin's teaching is “cognitive. ” 9 One study in particular, R. T. Kendall's Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, draws on this “cognitive” aspect of Calvin's theology in order to argue for a fundamental difference between Calvin's thought and that of later Calvinism:

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