What do you think of predestination

Predestination - Reformed '' central dogma ''?

Diary entries of Reformed 'Puritans' from the 17th century refute the popularized Max Weber thesis. Calvinists did not toil for fear of being rejected. By Frank Jehle, St. Gallen

The conviction that failure in this life was a sign of not being chosen by God drove Reformed Christians to work restlessly and to advance capitalism - this is one thesis on the history of the impact of Calvin's doctrine of double predestination. Diary entries of Reformed 'Puritans' from the 17th century refute this popular assumption. The believers felt carried by the God of Providence, not driven by feelings of fear.

The doctrine of double predestination is often regarded as the "central dogma" (1) of the evangelical reformed churches. With this doctrine it is meant that God predestined people for salvation or disaster, election or rejection, even before they were born. John Calvin, the classic of Reformed theology, gave the following definition:

"By predestination we understand God's eternal arrangement, by virtue of which he decided in himself what should become of each individual human being according to his will. For human beings are not all created with the same destiny, but eternal life for some and life for others eternal damnation was previously assigned. As the individual is created for one purpose or another, so - we say - he is predestined for life or death. "(2)

What is important about this teaching is that the divine decision is independent of human behavior. It does not happen on the basis of divine foreknowledge. (In this case God would predestine for salvation those of whom he knows in advance that they will behave accordingly - and vice versa.) The reason for the predestination is a divine mystery. It is in God alone and not in man. Calvin himself spoke in this connection of a "terrible advice that [he] admitted" (3). At the same time, he warned against exploring God's counsel through cheeky questions. "How does it help you [...] to sink yourselves into an abyss in senseless tracing [...]. [...] If we go on here, we will not achieve anything, because the intrusiveness of such people will not be Find satisfaction. " (4) In a letter to the Council of Bern, he wrote of a "great, incomprehensible mystery" (5).

The doctrine of double predestination has often been admired for its clarity and seriousness, but has been criticized even more frequently. A first prominent opponent of Calvin was the French doctor and former Carmelite monk Hieronymus Bolsec, who lived in Geneva for a while and was influenced by humanism and the Renaissance. "The anthropology of humanism was based on human dignity and strongly emphasized the autonomy of human creativity - in sharp demarcation from the rest of nature." (6) (A famous example was the book "On the Dignity of Man" by the Italian Pico della Mirandola.) In 1551 Bolsec attacked Calvin's doctrine of predestination, was arrested, expelled from the council and returned to France, where he joined the Catholic Church reconnected. Later he retaliated with a very hateful and distorting biography of the Geneva reformer. (7)

An influential representative of the theologians who were critical of the doctrine of predestination and thus of Calvin was the originally Catholic and after 1870 Old Catholic church historian F. W. Kampschulte. In his biography of Calvin, published in 1869, he called the institute, Calvin's main theological work, "without question [...] the most outstanding and important product that the Reformation literature of the sixteenth century in the field of dogmatics had to show". The method is "bright and clear, the train of thought strictly logical, transparent everywhere, the division and order of the material according to the basic ideas". The presentation is "serious and measured" and "at times takes on a higher impetus." Calvin's institute contained "sections which could be placed alongside the most beautiful things that Pascal and Bossuet had written". "Passages like those on the majesty of the scriptures, on the misery of fallen man, on the meaning of prayer, will never fail to make a deep impression on the reader."

But then Kampschulte strikes! "(8) - Kampschultes (and Bolsec's) successors in the 20th century were, among others, the writer Stefan Zweig (9) and the Zurich pastor and psychoanalyst Oskar Pfister (10), whose polemical image of Calvin still has a wide impact. Almost in Calvin is portrayed in this sense in every lexicon and in every teaching aid for teaching history in high schools.

The sociologist Max Weber belongs in the same context with his much-cited treatises on the connection between Protestantism and capitalism of 1904 and 1905. For him, too, the doctrine of the double predestination is the reformed "central dogma", whose "pathetic [.] Inhumanity" he highlights. "The humanly understandable 'Father in Heaven' of the New Testament" has become in Calvinism "a transcendent being withdrawn from any human understanding, who from eternity has assigned his destiny to each individual according to completely inexplicable advice and has had everything in the cosmos."

As a social scientist, Weber was not interested in the theological statement in the narrower sense, but in the psychological and social effects of the doctrine of double predestination. The consequence of the reformed "central dogma" in the 16th and 17th centuries was "the feeling of an unheard-of inner loneliness" among believers. "In the most decisive matter of life for the people of the Reformation period: eternal bliss", people were told to "walk their streets lonely, towards a fate that has been fixed from eternity." Nobody could help him. (11) Religious "fear affects" (12) would have burdened the members of the Reformed churches enormously.

And from this the sociologist draws a momentous conclusion: Through "restless professional work" (13), the Reformed community members have tried to vent their religious fears. They would have appeased and repressed them by trying to obtain proof in their professional success that they had been chosen by God - and not rejected them. The result was extraordinary activism. It was against this religious background that, according to Max Weber, the phenomenal capitalist economy developed in the countries influenced by Calvinism: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, etc. - and of course above all in North America, where the skyscraper army of Manhattan is already deeply impressing all travelers from Europe. In broadly educated circles, Max Weber's thesis about the connection between double predestination and capitalism has largely prevailed today. It has become a historical myth or commonplace, the validity of which is unquestionably accepted.

The aim of this little article is now to critically question and destroy the whole theory in three steps.

1. Recent historical studies in various countries have shown that Max Weber allowed his theory to be determined too strongly by "high" theology. The doctrine of double predestination was a favorite of academic theology. At theological conferences (Synods of Dordrecht, 1618-19, and Westminster, 1643-49) people loved to discuss them extensively and to draw up nuanced formulations down to the finest ramifications. The "ordinary" church people - and also the "ordinary" pastors - were little affected by it.

The historian Kaspar von Greyerz, who teaches at the University of Kiel, examined 100 autobiographies and around 300 diaries that were written in England in the 17th century - mostly by Reformed "Puritans". What struck him in particular was that the vast majority of these people were not concerned with predestination. There is no trace of religious "fearful emotions"! What shaped their piety was their belief in Providence and that means: in the presence of a benevolent God in the everyday world. "The God of Providence was not the distant and inexplicable God of double predestination, but rather a kind of father figure who came to your aid in life - just as the saints helped the believers in the eyes of the Catholics of that time" (14) . That means: The difference between the religious feelings of the various denominations was almost always overestimated. The research was too strongly oriented towards academic theology with its desire for debate and distinction. The "normal" parishioners of the different denominations did not think so differently. In the 16th and 17th centuries there was a broad common floor of piety throughout Europe.

The more intensely one gets involved in the history of mentality, the less it can be proven that there is a connection between the doctrine of double predestination and modern capitalism. Only the fact that the capitalist economic system emerged earlier in Calvinist countries than elsewhere remains correct in Max Weber's theory. Calvinism taught virtues such as modesty and diligence, but this has little to do with the doctrine of predestination. Initiative and personal responsibility of the individual was strongly encouraged by the democratic church constitution of the reformed churches.

2. Apart from that, the doctrine of double predestination is much less "typically Reformed" than is often assumed. One reads Martin Luther's work "De servo arbitrio" ("That free will is nothing") from 1525, addressed against the humanist Erasmus von Rotterdam. The famous work (which the Wittenberg reformer considered one of his best books) makes it clear that Luther's Theology was at least as strongly influenced by predestination as that of Calvin. The situation is similar with Zwingli, who in his work "De providentia" ("Providence") of 1530 also represented a strong predestinatianism that Calvin even went too far. (Calvin wrote to Bullinger in Zurich in January 1552: "Zwingli's book [of Providence] is, to put it confidentially, so full of harsh paradoxes that it is very far removed from the measure I hold." )

In the background not only of Calvin, but also of Luther and Zwingli stands the overpowering shadow of Aurelius Augustinus (354-430), the greatest theologian who wrote in Latin in antiquity, whose influence not only on the Reformation but also on the Roman Catholic tradition cannot be overestimated. Although conceptually not yet fully developed, he had created the doctrine of predestination (especially based on certain top sentences of the Apostle Paul) and transmitted it to Western Christendom as an inheritance: and] Glorified I say not only that they are children of God before they are born again [in the religious sense] but also before they are born [in the natural sense] and that they cannot perish. " (16) Augustine did not formulate the same verbatim from the "opposite side", from those who were damned for all eternity. But there is no doubt that he meant it. Augustine's "textbook example" from the Bible was "Esau, the hairy man who was damned before he was born, before he could be guilty." (17) Calvin was absolutely right when he said that Augustine already had the doctrine "that the Lord created people who he undoubtedly knew beforehand would be lost." (18) - Anyone who wants to attack Calvin because of the doctrine of predestination must also direct his criticism against Augustine, Luther and Zwingli.

It is instructive to compare Calvin with Thomas Aquinas, the greatest thinker of the Catholic Middle Ages, who also came from Augustine. Thomas, too, was predestined. He differed from Calvin only in nuances, but chose a more cautious and reserved terminology than the Geneva reformer. He used the word predestination only in a positive sense - as predestination to salvation. And in this case it was also a matter of course for him that the human being did not contribute anything to his election. In the case of the rejected, however, Thomas refrained from using the word predestination. He called the rejection a "part of providence concerning those who fall away from salvation" and underlined that the word "foreknowledge" was insufficient to explain this phenomenon (19). God not only foresaws, but wants to allow (20) people to become guilty and subject to the punishment of condemnation. God wants to allow! With this, Thomas chose an emphatically floating formulation that allows human responsibility to remain, but at the same time - and specifically - adheres to the primacy of the divine will. The free will of man is completely enclosed by the divine will. This is possibly the cleverest figure that the doctrine of predestination found under Augustine's spell.

3. So Calvin did indeed teach double predestination. In Geneva he also worked to ensure that all theologians agreed with him (see the Bolsec case). The location of the free imperial city of Geneva was so exposed at that time - Catholic troops could attack the city from different sides at any time - that a theological "keep" was vital in Calvin's eyes. And yet one has to doubt that his entire theological system was or was based on "the terrible idea of ​​double predestination" (Kampschulte).

Calvin was not a systematic thinker in the Hegelian sense who constructed everything from a single point. He was much more of a biblical theologian who was inspired by the scriptures in all their diversity and complexity. In numerous sermons and also in most of his letters he did not speak of predestination unless someone spoke to him about it. In the first edition of the Institutio from 1536, the double predestination is not yet taught. And even those who read through the later editions in one go, hardly get the impression that everything is dominated by the doctrine of predestination. "Clementia dei", "God's philanthropy" is a favorite expression of Calvin.

And especially to Calvin's letters: He would like to get his theological friends Bullinger in Zurich and Melanchthon in Wittenberg to agree to the view of predestination he advocates. He solicits her consent. But he is ready to preserve friendship and the ecumenical "bond of peace" even where the friend remains unreasonable and intransigent. Although Bullinger makes no secret of the fact that he is troubled by the doctrine of double predestination, Calvin says he does not consider Zwingli's successor in Zurich to be his enemy. On the contrary, he always wanted to "remain bound by all ties of fraternal communion", since Bullinger was, despite all theological differences, a "like-minded and inseparable comrade in the work of the Lord". (21) He hug him!

He wrote to Bern that whoever wanted to play Melanchthon and him off against one another was doing "both and the whole Church" injustice. He venerated Melanchthon because of his "excellent knowledge" and his "noble character", but above all "because of his faithful activity in the preservation of the Gospel". If he finds something in him that he has to contradict, he does not withhold it from him, as Melanchthon also allows him full freedom. (22)

To Melanchthon himself it says: "If we could talk to each other about these things! I am familiar with your integrity, your transparent openness and your moderation; your piety, however, is well attested to all angels and people. So hopefully this matter could easily be between us to settle. " (23) Or in a later letter: "In order to eradicate this inequality [between you and me], I do not want to tell you that you must agree with me, but we must not be ashamed of placing both of us under God's holy word. " (24)

So Calvin advertises in a touching way for the approval of his Wittenberg friend, but at the same time respects his position, which deviates from his own opinion. About predestination it says in the same letter that the "doctrine of God's mercy as a gift of grace" will be "fundamentally overturned" if one does not hold to the fact that "according to God's good pleasure, the believers are eliminated from the rejected" that God intended Choose bliss. It must be established that "faith flows from God's hidden choice of grace". God enlighten those with his spirit whom he "decided to choose before their birth and accepted into his family through his grace". (25)

The last quoted text is particularly helpful in understanding Calvin's concern. Calvin is not concerned with idle speculation.The fact that God can also reject people is nothing more than the unfortunately unavoidable logical consequence of the other and much more fundamental insight into faith: It is God himself from whom the initiative for salvation proceeds! Faith is a gift from God and not a human achievement. The "doctrine of God's mercy as a gift" is at stake. And according to Calvin's understanding, this cannot be given up.

He wrote to the Geneva council that God opened our eyes "because he chose us to be believers before we were conceived in the womb." (26) First and foremost it is about the certainty of salvation. Calvin says in the same letter: Everyone who insists that "faith is a deposit and pledge of acceptance by grace" also confesses that the same faith flows "from the source of eternal election". And yet we should "not seek our assurance of salvation in the hidden counsel of God." In Christ, let us see a life that not only reveals itself in the Gospel, but that we can enjoy. "Let the gaze of faith be directed to this mirror [...]. [Faith] does not desire to penetrate where there is no access." (27) The passage turns the gaze from abstract speculations about the hidden counsel of God to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's what matters! It is a beautiful and helpful picture: Christ as the mirror in which one perceives the divine will.

According to the Institutio: "If we are looking for God's fatherly kindness and his gracious heart, we must first turn our eyes to Christ, on whom the Father's pleasure rests alone. [...] because he alone is the fountain of life, he is the anchor of salvation, he is the heir of the kingdom of heaven. But what does our election result in other than that we, accepted by the heavenly Father as a child, attain salvation and immortality through his favor? think over and investigate as much as you want, you will find that your final destination does not go any further [...]. " (28)

A letter from Calvin to the oppressed Protestants in France, written in 1561, at a time when the aging reformer was already suffering from tuberculosis from which he was to die three years later, is impressive: it is certain "that no one else but from Grace the privilege of calling God the Father boldly and with calm trust in Christ's protection. " The choice of grace is "according to the secret counsel of God" "the very first cause of our salvation", but remains hidden from us. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably certain that all "who are received into the body of Christ by faith in the gospel" will also be pardoned by God himself. One can be satisfied with this testimony and energetically continue "on the path that has been trodden with happiness". (29) The message of the divine choice of grace is not a threatening message, but a good news. It is precisely because our election does not depend on our own contribution that we can be confident.

In a letter from the Geneva clergy to the colleagues in Zurich, it says: "We are agreed enough that we are justified through faith; but only then does God's mercy appear firmly established, so that we recognize faith as the fruit of that he accepts us out of free grace; but that he accepts us comes from his eternal election. " (30) As in a nutshell, the actual meaning of the doctrine of predestination for Calvin becomes visible at this point: Precisely because the election of God takes precedence over all human activity - we come from election and are shaped by it from the beginning - we can be happy and be certain.

Unlike what Kampschulte and many others wanted to see, Calvin's "system" was not based on the "terrible idea of ​​double predestination". If one can even speak of a "system" in Calvin, it is based on God's mercy, which is revealed in Jesus Christ. The center of the specifically Reformed piety is the Christologically founded trust in God.

"What is your only consolation in life and in death? - That I am not mine with body and soul, both in life and in death, but of my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who pays perfectly for all my sins with his precious blood and has redeemed me from all the might of the devil and thus preserved that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head, yes everything must also serve me for my salvation.Therefore he also has me through his holy spirit of eternal life assures him and makes him ready and willing to go on living with all my heart. " (31)

The famous beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most important confessional writings of the evangelical reformed churches, expresses this trait of Reformed piety in a particularly beautiful way - free of all "fearful emotions". Calvin would have signed these sentences.

1 Alexander Schweizer, The Protestant Central Dogms in their Development within the Reformed Church. Zurich 1854/56.
2 Institutio III, 21, 5 (after Otto Weber).
3 A. a. O., III, 23, 7.
4 A. a. O., III, 23, 5.
5 May 4th 1555.
6 Paul Münch, The Thesis before Weber. In: Hartmut Lehmann and Günther Roth (editors), Weber's Protestant Ethic. Origins, Evidence, Contexts. (1987.) First paperback edition.
() 1995, p. 54 (translation by F. Jehle).
7 According to: RGG, 3rd edition, Volume 1. Tübingen 1957, Sp. 1349 f.
8 F. W. Kampschulte, Johann Calvin, his Church and State in Geneva. First volume. First edition. Leipzig 1869, p. 275 f.
9 Stefan Zweig, Castellio versus Calvin. Vienna 1936. (A book that was designed between the lines as a pamphlet against the totalitarianism of the 20th century!)
10 Oskar Pfister, Christianity and Fear. Zurich 1944.
11 Max Weber, Die Protestantische Ethik I. A collection of essays. Edited by Johannes Winckelmann. Seven Star Paperback 53/54. Third, revised and expanded edition. Hamburg 1973, p. 122.
12 A. a. Cit., P. 129.
13 A. a. O.
14 Kaspar von Greyerz, Predestination, Covenant, and Special Providence. In: Hartmut Lehmann and Günther Roth (editors), Weber's Protestant Ethic. Origins, Evidence, Contexts. (1987.) First paperback edition.
() 1995, p. 276 (translation by F. Jehle).
January 15, 1552.
16 After Seeberg II, p. 541.
17 Kurt Flasch, Augustin. Introduction to his thinking. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Stuttgart 1994, p. 191.
18 Institutio III, 23, 5.
19 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I 23 3.
20 A. a. O .: "repropatio includit voluntatem permittendi".
April 21, 1553.
22 October 6, 1552.
23 November 18, 1552.
24 August 27, 1554.
25 A. a. O.
26 January 1, 1552.
27 January 1, 1552.
28 Institutio III, 24, 5.
29 August 18, 1561.
30 November 14, 1551.
31 Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 1.

Source: Homepage of Frank Jehle, freelance author, until 2004 pastor and lecturer for Protestant theology at the University of St. Gallen