Friday, December 13, 2013

Calvin's prefatory remarks on the Trinity and the Incarnation as the Paradigm of Divine Accommodation

In the opening section of Calvin's chapter on the Trinity (Book 1, chapter 13), he claims that two doctrines set forth in Scripture concerning God's being protect against both the dreams of the vulgar and the subtleties of profane philosophy.

One doctrine is the immensity of God and the other is the spirituality of God. The immensity of God curbs the human mind's natural inclination to measure by our senses, while the spirituality keeps us mindful that God cannot be equated with physical analogies (of which he says more a bit later). It seems as well that the immensity of God prevents human intellect from imagining that it can, by increasing knowledge of God, gain mastery over Him or circumscribe His limits.

Rather, knowledge of God, so far from enabling man to exert power over the object of knowledge, transforms the man into a fuller, or more perfect iteration of his nature. That is to say, since God has made man as His image, and insofar as Christ is the express image of God, as man grows in his knowledge of God, he also grows up into a more complete image of Christ.

Additionally, Calvin speaks of God's accommodation toward man, particularly in the language of Scripture's descriptions of God. While described as having hands, eyes, fingers, and so on, God is not essentially possessed of any of these physical aspects, but rather these physical descriptions as "lisps" as a nurse to a babe. God accommodates the immensity of His nature to man by describing Himself in  terms of the physical, sensate elements by which man experiences much of his own existence.

One could ask what undergirds the doctrine of accommodation, or rather, whether the language of Scripture is the only relevant aspect of God's accommodation. The response could easily be that it is rather that the language of Scripture is an image of the Greater Accommodation God makes to man in the Incarnation of the Son of God. In making Himself known to man, God became a man, and in so doing has made it possible for man to become like God in a way that otherwise man could not.

It is a topic sometimes (and more frequently today, perhaps) speculated upon, whether Adam, had he not sinned, would have received eternal life, or whether he would have remained under a requirement of perpetual obedience, yet mutable (able to sin). Such speculations, it seems to me, miss the larger point. Adam could not have earned divinity except through union with the divine, and insofar as union with the divine is most fully manifest in the hypostatic union, the Incarnation is essential to the proper raising of man into his full nature. Only by the Eternal Son of God joining Himself to a human nature could human nature reach culmination.

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