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Calvin at the Centre$
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Paul Helm

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199532186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199532186.001.0001

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Pure Nature and Common Grace

Pure Nature and Common Grace

(p.308) 10 Pure Nature and Common Grace
Calvin at the Centre

Paul Helm

Oxford University Press

One curiosity in the history of Calvinism is the way in which later Calvinists such as Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper downplay or deny Calvin's commitment to natural law, and claim that he articulated instead a radically novel idea of ‘common grace’ and denied the medieval ‘dichotomy’ between nature and grace. This is puzzling in view of Calvin's commitment to natural law, which arises from Augustine, Augustine's distinction between nature and supernature, and the similarity of his position to that of Thomas Aquinas, who argues that far from the Fall leaving human nature ‘intact’ it seriously affected it. This chapter explores this opposition between natural law and common grace, and seeks to identify a rationale for it. It is argued that this can be traced back not so much to a development in Calvin, as to a change in Roman Catholicism: the adoption of the idea of ‘pure nature’ from Cajetan. Its prevalence in the Counter‐Reformation was motivated by controversy with both Jansenists and Protestants. It is this later view of ‘nature and grace’ that Bavinck and others have mistakenly assumed to be the Roman Catholic view at the time of Calvin, and they somewhat anachronistically have read Calvin's own views in terms of it.

Keywords:   Augustine, Bavinck, Cajetan, Calvin, common grace, Jansenism, Kuyper, natural law, nature and supernature, pure nature

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