Jul 14, 2014

Calvin: Natural Law Like Mutilated Headless Body, Otherwise Good

Ro 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
According to Calvin, Romans 12:1-2 shows that moral philosophers cannot ground their best claims. Paul shows here that the underlying principle of moral duty is to consecrate oneself to God in response to God's mercy, but philosophy does not rest on the transformative knowledge of God's mercy. Therefore, moral philosophies, like natural-law theory, are deeply imperfect.
Calvin Says "Philosophers Offer Only Great Mutilated Doctrines, Excellent Headless Bodies"
If it be, that through the saving knowledge of God and of Christ, the soul is, as it were, regenerated into a celestial life, and that the life is in a manner formed and regulated by holy exhortations and precepts; it is then in vain that you show a desire to form the life aright, except you prove first, that the origin of all righteousness in men is in God and Christ; for this is to raise them from the dead. 
And this is the main difference between the gospel and philosophy: for though the philosophers speak excellently and with great judgment on the subject of morals, yet whatever excellency shines forth in their precepts, it is, as it were, a beautiful superstructure without a foundation; for by omitting principles, they offer a mutilated doctrine, like a body without a head.

Natural Law Philosophy: Nice Pects But No Head
Not very unlike this is the mode of teaching under the Papacy: for though they mention, by the way, faith in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it yet appears quite evident, that they approach heathen philosophers far nearer than Christ and his Apostles. 
But as philosophers, before they lay down laws respecting morals, discourse first of the end of what is good, and inquire into the sources of virtues, from which afterwards they draw and derive all duties; so Paul lays down here the principle from which all the duties of holiness flow, even this, -- that we are redeemed by the Lord for this end -- that we may consecrate to him ourselves and all our members.
If knowledge of our redemption by Christ is "the principle" of all duties, then proponents of natural-law philosophy must admit either (1) that natural-law philosophy teaches Christ as the principle of all duties, or (2) that because natural-law philosophy does not rely on Christ, it is mutilated, "a beautiful superstructure without foundation ... a body without a head." If the former, then natural-law philosophers are really bad at showing the centrality of Christ and need to reform their arguments. If the latter, then natural-law philosophers believe that adequate philosophy does not require foundations. 

This latter seems to me the most promising route, i.e. the most self-understanding natural-law philosophy is a form of skepticism about the ability of man to ground his sense of duty, which also acknowledges the experience that man cannot shake his sense of duty. It leaves man with a choice between acknowledging the senselessness of life or turning to Christ, who can be shown to be the only available ground for our sense of good and right. Unfortunately, contemporary natural-law philosophers generally deny that the mercy flowing from Christ is the only available ground of our sense of good and right.

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