John Calvin’s Reception at the Westminster Assembly (1643–1649)

in Church History and Religious Culture
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Of all the Reformation theologians, John Calvin exerted arguably the most influence on the English Puritans. That did not mean, however, that his theology was uncritically accepted. This chapter considers the reception of Calvin’s theology at the Westminster Assembly on two doctrines that were debated among the Westminster divines, namely, the eternal generation of the Son of God and the so-called descent of Christ into Hell. Calvin’s somewhat unique position on the Son’s aseity and his interpretation of Christ’s descent were considered by the Assembly, but ultimately rejected by the majority, though not all, of the Westminster divines. Nevertheless, the Westminster documents are not quite detailed enough to contradict Calvin’s position on the Son’s aseity, but the Larger Catechism definitely departs from Calvin’s teaching on Christ’s descent into Hell. Moreover, the relation of the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed to Reformed theology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also comes under consideration in this chapter.

John Calvin’s Reception at the Westminster Assembly (1643–1649)

in Church History and Religious Culture

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5

B.B. Warfield‘Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,’ in Calvin and Calvinism (1932; repr. Grand Rapids 2003) p. 249; see also Paul Helm John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004) p. 43.

7

CalvinInstitutes1.13.23.

11

Ibid. pp. 135–137.

15

Ibid. p. 233.

23

Ibid. p. 15.

24

Ibid. p. 18.

33

Ibid. p. 491. For example Herman Witsius (1636–1708) Sacred Dissertations on What is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed trans. Donald Fraser 3 vols. (1823 repr. Phillipsburg 1993) 2: 143 argued the following: “Whoever intends then to express our Lord’s condition in the grave and in the state of death in the language employed by ancient patriarchs and prophets cannot make use of more elegant or striking terms than these: ‘Christ descended into hell hades.’ And this is the native proper and literal sense of the expression.”

34

CalvinInstitutes2.16.8.

35

Ibid.2.16.10.

36

Mary Rakow‘Christ’s Descent into Hell: Calvin’s Interpretation,’ Religion in Life 43 (Summer 1974) 218–226. On the Reformers’ interpretations of Christ’s descent see Dewey D. Wallace Jr. ‘Puritan and Anglican: The Interpretation of Christ’s Descent into Hell in Elizabethan Theology’ Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 69 (1978) 248–286.

47

Ibid. p. 286.

50

CalvinInstitutes4.9.8.

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