Friday, February 19, 2010

The Soul and the Will

Today's reading started with another mention of Servetus and his heresies.  Apparently, Servetus picked up a heresy spread by the Manichees many years before.  Calvin describes it by saying, "Because it is said that God breathed the breath of life upon man's face, they thought the soul to be a derivative of God's substance, as if some portion of immeasurable divinity had flowed into man."  Calvin is right in arguing against this.  We are not little gods because God created us and breathed life into us.  Later he explains that even though we are created in the image of God, we are still created beings.  "But creation is not inpouring, but the beginning of essence out of nothing."

Calvin begins here a discussion about different philosophers and their beliefs about the will, understanding, the senses, the soul, and more.  He discusses how Plato is the only philosopher who is close to the truth in these matters.  Battles, the translator of the Institutes that I am reading and author of the Analysis of the Institutes of Christian Religion, drew a crazy diagram in his analysis in order to simplify Calvin's explanation.  Personally, the diagram does more to confuse than to clarify.

The functions of the soul are described by Calvin.  "Indeed, from Scripture we have already taught that the soul is an incorporeal substance; now we must add that, although properly it is not spatially limited, still, set in the body, it dwells there as in a house; not only that it may animate all its parts and render its organs fit and useful for their actions, but also that it may hold the first place in ruling man's life, not alone with respect to the duties of his earthly life, but at the same time to arouse him to honor God."  This may be the longest sentence with the most punctuation that I have typed in a long time, but I think it is worth breaking down.  First, it was in 1.15.2 that Calvin was teaching that the soul was non-material.  Because it is not a tangible form, it is shapeless.  It does remain in our body during our life and serves multiple functions.  The soul animates all body parts and causes our organs to function.  More importantly it guides us in our lives and gives us the desire to honor God. 

Calvin concludes the chapter with a brief discussion on free choice and Adam's responsibility.  It is admittedly brief because Calvin wants to deal with these topics more completely at a later date.  Suffice it to say, Adam was created with the ability to choose whether or not to sin.  Adam's will gave in to temptation and was corrupted: "...for he received so much that he voluntarily brought about his own destruction."  Calvin makes a quick statement about original sin in saying, " was far different at the first creation from his whole posterity, who, deriving their origin from him in his corrupted state, have contracted from him a hereditary trait."

We in our corrupted state may ask why God made us corruptible.  Calvin answers by stating, "...indeed, no necessity was imposed upon God of giving man other than a mediocre and even transitory will, that from man's Fall he might gather the occasion for his own glory."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.16.1-1.16.4

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