Breakdown of the Teleological View of Life?

Investigating Law, Telos and Virtue in Calvinistic Ethics

in Journal of Reformed Theology
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In response to Alasdair MacIntyre’s and Brad Gregory’s claim—that the Reformation’s concept of morality in terms of obedience to divine commandments has been a major factor in a catastrophic breakdown in modernity of the teleological view of life and the virtues—this essay aims both to correct this criticism and to reread Calvin from the perspective of virtue ethics. Calvin’s utterances about the nature of the law, virtue, the self before God, one’s calling in the world, natural law and reason appear to be much more in alliance with a teleological, virtue ethical view than MacIntyre suggests. This opens up the possibility of a fruitful interplay between a Reformed account of law and Christian virtue ethics.

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References

2

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 53.

3

Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge/ London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).

4

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 55.

7

MacIntyre, Short History, 121. Cf. Gregory, Reformation, 201–205, who emphasizes the social divergence and dramatic disagreement in Christianity resulting from the doctrinal controversies of the Reformation.

8

Gregory, Reformation, 203.

9

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 32.

10

MacIntyre, Short History, 123.

11

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 191.

12

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 181–225.

14

Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983). Note that during the seventies—some years before MacIntyre published After Virtue in 1981—Hauerwas had already developed an ethics of character and virtue: Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1975).

15

Richard J. Mouw, The God Who Commands: A Study in Divine Command Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 28f.

16

MacIntyre, Short History, 123.

17

John Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept of the Law (Allison Park: Pickwick, 1992), 256.

19

Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1.

21

Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.22. Cf. 2.2.17: it can still be seen “among all mankind that reason is proper to our nature; it distinguishes us from brute beasts.”

22

Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.1: “inward law … as written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the Two Tables.”

23

See David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 93ff., for this overview.

24

Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.22.

25

VanDrunen, Natural Law, 110–114.

27

Rothuizen, Primus usus, 23. Cf. Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.3: “However much we may be sinners by our own fault, we nevertheless remain his creatures.”

29

VanDrunen, Natural Law, 42–55.

31

Calvin, Institutes, 4.20.16.

32

Calvin, Institutes, 4.20.15.

36

Cf. Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.25.

37

VanDrunen, Natural Law, 107.

38

Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.1. Cf. 1.6.1–4.

39

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 53.

40

Mouw, God Commands, 67–70.

41

Calvin, Institutes, 2.3.3.

42

Calvin, Institutes, 2.3.4. In this section Calvin speaks of the personal qualities of people like Camillus (celebrated by Horace, Vergil, and Juvenal) in which nature is “carefully cultivated” as “gifts of God”, though their nature is still corrupted. Thus, instead of ‘special grace’ these “gifts” or “graces” are rather a matter of ‘common grace’.

43

Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.2.

44

Calvin, Institutes, 2.3.4.

46

Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.3.

47

Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.5. Aurelius Augustine, City of God, trans. M. Dodds (New York: The Modern Library, 1950), XIV.12.

48

Calvin, Institutes, 3.6.1. Cf. Jochem Douma, Grondslagen: Christelijke ethiek (Foundations of Christian Ethics), Vol. 1 (Kok: Kampen, 1999), 227.

49

Calvin, Institutes, 3.6.1.

52

Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1.

53

Calvin, Institutes, 3.6.3.

54

Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.3.

57

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 150, 200.

60

Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.13.

62

Mouw, God Commands, 66.

63

Calvin, Institutes, 4.20.32.

64

Mouw, God Commands, 100.

65

Cf. John Witte, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 181–196.

66

Mouw, God Commands, 102.

67

Mouw, God Commands, 111.

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