Breakdown of the Teleological View of Life?

Investigating Law, Telos and Virtue in Calvinistic Ethics

in Journal of Reformed Theology
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


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.

Breakdown of the Teleological View of Life?

Investigating Law, Telos and Virtue in Calvinistic Ethics

in Journal of Reformed Theology



  • 2

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue53.

  • 3

    Brad GregoryThe Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge/ London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press2012).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue55.

  • 7

    MacIntyreShort History121. Cf. Gregory Reformation 201–205 who emphasizes the social divergence and dramatic disagreement in Christianity resulting from the doctrinal controversies of the Reformation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8


  • 9

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue32.

  • 10

    MacIntyreShort History123.

  • 11

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue191.

  • 12

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue181–225.

  • 14

    Stanley HauerwasThe Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press1983). 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).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 15

    Richard J. MouwThe God Who Commands: A Study in Divine Command Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press1990) 28f.

  • 16

    MacIntyreShort History123.

  • 17

    John HesselinkCalvin’s Concept of the Law (Allison Park: Pickwick1992) 256.

  • 19


  • 21

    CalvinInstitutes2.2.22. 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.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 22

    CalvinInstitutes2.8.1: “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.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 23

    See David VanDrunenNatural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans2010) 93ff. for this overview.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24


  • 25

    VanDrunenNatural Law110–114.

  • 27

    RothuizenPrimus usus23. Cf. Calvin Institutes 2.16.3: “However much we may be sinners by our own fault we nevertheless remain his creatures.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 29

    VanDrunenNatural Law42–55.

  • 31


  • 32


  • 36

    Cf. CalvinInstitutes2.2.25.

  • 37

    VanDrunenNatural Law107.

  • 38

    CalvinInstitutes2.8.1. Cf. 1.6.1–4.

  • 39

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue53.

  • 40

    MouwGod Commands67–70.

  • 41


  • 42

    CalvinInstitutes2.3.4. 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’.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 43


  • 44


  • 46


  • 47

    CalvinInstitutes2.8.5. Aurelius Augustine City of God trans. M. Dodds (New York: The Modern Library 1950) XIV.12.

  • 48

    CalvinInstitutes3.6.1. Cf. Jochem Douma Grondslagen: Christelijke ethiek (Foundations of Christian Ethics) Vol. 1 (Kok: Kampen 1999) 227.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 49


  • 52


  • 53


  • 54


  • 57

    MacIntyreAfter Virtue150 200.

  • 60


  • 62

    MouwGod Commands66.

  • 63


  • 64

    MouwGod Commands100.

  • 65

    Cf. John WitteThe Reformation of Rights: Law Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2007) 181–196.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 66

    MouwGod Commands102.

  • 67

    MouwGod Commands111.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 77 71 8
Full Text Views 153 153 1
PDF Downloads 10 10 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0