01 October 2013

A Little Lower Than God

“O LORD, what are human beings that you should notice them,

mere mortals that you should think about them?” (Ps. 144:3)

In certain circles, Christian Humanism gets a bad rap. But I think it may have to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of what it actually is—from both a theological and methodological perspective. Most of us realize that it has little to do with twenty-first century secular humanism, as it strives to affirm the dignity of humanity without any reference to God, an unthinkable prospect to the Christian humanist, since any talk about the dignity of humankind apart from the imago Dei is unintelligible.

In contrast, Christian Humanism argues that, precisely because Christ Jesus is Lord of both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, individuals and their culture have value (this is what it brings to the table theologically). Of course, this notion isn’t foreign to Scripture or the early church (e.g., Justin Martyr’s Apology), but it had become somewhat eclipsed during the medieval period (i.e., humankind´s fundamental problem in relating to God is not sin, it is our finitude, our inferiority as such). Not surprisingly, this particular humanistic anthropological perspective trickled down to educational methodology, Christian Humanism’s other major contribution: devotion to studia humanitatis, or the liberal arts, including history, literary criticism, grammar, poetry, philology, and rhetoric, became a prominent feature of this movement. (It should be obvious by now that if not for the blossoming of Christian Humanism during the Renaissance, there would’ve been no Reformation—or Counter-Reformation—as there would’ve been no return to the sources of the original languages of Scripture, which in turn produced a critical barrage against late medieval scholastic methodology and, oftentimes, theology.)

It must be admitted that many Christian humanists tweaked their anthropology in the wrong direction. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man comes to mind, in which he stressed that men had the free will (apparently apart from prevenient grace) to travel up and down a moral scale. But this particular view isn’t necessary to Christian Humanism, as many of the Reformers had, as a dear friend often puts it, a high regard for the doctrine of depravity. This isn’t to suggest that theirs was all “worm theology,” however.

Among the magisterial Reformers, John Calvin stands out as one such Christian humanist, at least in a few significant ways. I think especially of his grammatical-historical, literary-critical exegesis, his devoted attention to the church fathers, his love of the classics (his first complete published work being a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia), his somewhat tension-riddled acceptance of a kind of “Christian philosophy,” and the strongly ethical character of his teaching on the Christian life (see Bouwsma’s John Calvin, pp. 113–127 for more on this). Stressing the dignity of man, Calvin's social reforms included relief for the poor, construction of hospitals, schools (which were free), new prisons, laws protecting consumers, provisions for refugees, and a sanitation system that made Geneva one of the cleanest and healthiest cities in Europe.

In his Institutes, Calvin notes that humankind was bestowed with a certain status as the noblest of the works of God (1.15.1). Humans are the mirror of his divine glory, and the most distinguishing quality of humankind is its likeness to God, defined in terms of faculties and nature of the soul (reason, emotions, etc.; 1.15.4). Despite the fall of humanity, the imago has not been destroyed: “It is not the will of God, however that we should forget the primeval dignity which he bestowed on our first parents—a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice" (2.1.3). People maintain the dignity of their creation, and all the responsibilities flowing from this inherent dignity remain intact.

There may be something worth recapturing here, after all.

Consider also the oft-quoted psalm, which bespeaks, at the very least, the dignity of humankind in the economy of God’s creation:
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
   human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
   and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,

   putting all things under their authority . . . . (Ps. 8:4–6)
In his typically reasonable fashion, Calvin comments on this passage: “[God’s] glory is beheld in a special manner, in the great favor which he bears to men, and in the goodness which he manifests towards them.” He goes on to ground this exaltation of man in the fact that he was created in the image of God. But to persuade his reader not to get carried away, Calvin quickly advises him to note the psalmist’s design here, “which is to enhance, by this comparison, the infinite goodness of God; for it is, indeed, a wonderful thing that the Creator of heaven, whose glory is so surpassingly great as to ravish us with the highest admiration, condescends so far as graciously to take upon him the care of the human race.”

Calvin’s final admonishment is as good as any: “Whoever, therefore, is not astonished and deeply affected at this miracle, is more than ungrateful and stupid.”


val said...

A gift for you....truth.

Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins, whether they repent or not. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us ALL the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer 7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire or second death for any child of God has been deceived into teaching lies. The whole world has believed in the god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 and proven on this weblog diary http://thegoodtale.blogspot.com

God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet raised up of her brethren Acts 3:21-23 like unto Moses Num 12:3 delivering the true word Rev 12:17, Luke 8:11 and power of God boldly as Elijah, Matt 17:3 to the whole world as a witness Matt 24:14.

The true Gospel (Gospel means Good Tale) turns the hearts of the Father's to the children of God Luke 1:17. A true witness delivereth souls...Proverbs 14:25. All souls are now delivered John 8:32. My 1260 days are done Rev 12:6.A righteous judge gathers ALL EVIDENCE BEFORE making a judgment 1 Cor 6:2,

1 Thes 5:21, Pro 18:13 . Our ALMIGHTY God Luke 1:37 has an eternal place for all of his children in his coming world Rev 21 either on the NEW EARTH Ezek 37:26 or on a new planet in the NEW HEAVENS Matt 25:30, Acts 10:34, Rom 14:11,Heb 8:11, 1 John 1:9 according to their works Rev 20:13.

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