Fesko's Beyond Calvin (8): Metaphysics and Justification, pt 4 (From Calvin to Other Reformed Witnesses)

We press forward in our review of this opening essay of the book by noting Fesko's transition from the section on Calvin to a section titled "Other Reformed Witnesses."  Our reading of the essay has been painfully slow because of the need to clear the table of errors  at just about every turn in order to get at the substantive issues beneath them. As we progress, though, I will note fewer and fewer of the repeating errors in order to make better headway. Firstly, then, we consider the concluding remarks in the author's Calvin section.

1. The author continues what I have suggested is a solemnly erroneous handling of Calvin's words regarding good works as inferior (secondary) causes of eternal life by stating, "Calvin's use of metaphysical distinctions here not only shows how the various aspects of redemption relate to one another, but is the way he gives justification priority over sanctification." And then Fesko supplies the following footnoted comment for this statement:

"In Garcia's analysis of this passage [Calvin's Institutes, 3.14.21 - MAG] he argues that Calvin can use causation language, but that it can only be understood in the context of replication, the idea that believer's [sic] imitate or replicate the conduct of Christ through the power of the Spirit, a concept quite different from Thomas a'Kempis' imitatio Christi. Hence, causation language must be read in the context of replication: 'Calvin regards what comes prior in God's appointed ordo as 'causing' what follows, thus making it possible to insist that Christian obedience, as it comes before the reception of the inheritance of eternal life, yields this reward. Hence, in Calvin's replication principle, the sequential contextualizes the non-meritorious causal' (Life in Christ, 144-45). While this observation may explain the function of good works as 'inferior causes,' it still does not adequately address the priority Calvin gives to justification by placing justification first in the sequence" (38, n. 16)

Some thoughts:

a. We have already discovered that Fesko sees justification in the Calvin quote only because he has inserted it there. But it is also noteworthy that here Fesko acknowledges that I do in fact argue that Calvin "can" use causation language. This does not sit easily, however, with his claim in the very next sentence of his essay that I "claim that causal language is the exclusive property of the Lutheran tradition" (38).

b. Fesko's curious zeal to mitigate my positive language regarding Calvin and causation is focused on my explanation that Calvin's model of Spirit-"replication" (my term, not Calvin's) contextualizes his use of traditional causation language here. (On my proposal for a model of replication, see ch. 3 in Life in Christ and the "in this way" portion of Calvin's argument in Inst. 3.14.21.) According to Fesko in this footnote, I believe causation language in Calvin can "only" be seen in a context of replication. However, Fesko does not account for the patent counter-evidence for his claim, namely, the other times I see Calvin using causation, including in the context of justification, without my suggesting he is employing his replication model. On Fesko's reading there should not be any examples of my doing so, and it is a standard test of a thesis to ensure one accounts for all extant and possible evidence to the contrary. In this case the counter-evidence is not difficult to locate. Again I can refer to the same chapter in Life in Christ (which Fesko cites) where I point to Calvin doing exactly this in chapter 3 of his Romans commentary. On p. 118, I state explicitly in a summary of Calvin's argument:

"Second, and consequently, only Christ can transfer to us the righteousness necessary for justification. Thus the righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ. These two points are summarized using the Aristotelian causes: the efficient cause (causa efficiens) is God's mercy, the substance (materia) is Christ, and the instrumental cause (instrumentum) is the Word with faith."

Moreover, in my footnote in this paragraph I list other scholars who have discussed the history and development of Aristotelian causation, the use of the Aristotelian causes in Calvin, and the uses of Aristotle in the Reformation period (p. 118, n. 73). This extends my evidence on this point from a previous post.

c. Thus, put simply, the fact that I do see causation language elsewhere in Calvin, and not "only" in a replication model, empties Fesko's claim of any substance.

2. Secondly, the two sentences which make up Fesko's next paragraph, in which he begins a discussion of "Other Reformed Witnesses," read as follows:

"Part of the problem with Garcia's claims is that he examines a narrow cross-section of theologians, largely Calvin, Luther, and Melanchthon and then makes sweeping conclusions about two entire theological traditions without presenting more evidence. To this end, when we expand our study to explore other Reformed witnesses, it will become evident that causal language was present in the Reformed tradition during the sixteenth and seventeenth century."

And now some observations:

a. Before saying anything about other Reformed writers, it should be remembered that my monograph was a study of Calvin, not the whole of the Reformed tradition, and I assume it is still acceptable to write a study of Calvin even if he is not the one-stop-shop of Reformed theology. However, since Fesko is particularly concerned that I have, in his ironically sweeping way, made "sweeping conclusions about two entire theological traditions," I would note that my analysis of Calvin and his contemporaries investigated the messy exegetical, theological, and polemical elements which played the pivotal roles in the gradual divergence of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions. I made conclusions about two traditions from the perspective of the trajectories embraced at the point of their origins as two distinct theological, if not yet confessional, traditions. More specifically, my work has pointed to the theological issues that established (or perhaps more likely reflected already latent) distinguishable and complex trajectories which did continue beyond the period of the Reformation, but it was not designed to cover the subsequent history in anything like a comprehensive way. My suggestive pointers to what would come later depend on the reader's knowledge of those texts and continued trajectories, particularly in the period of confessionalization.

Certainly, the at-first subtle divergence of these trajectories was not sudden, nor was it over one disagreement or event, nor was it complete as though they had nothing important in common. But these two traditions did diverge, and this divergence was demonstrably rooted in nuanced differences over how to understand the mode of Christ's eucharistic presence and the manner of our union with him. It was, at its core, a difference in the Christological framework for eucharistic presence and communion, and thus has everything to do with soteriological union with Christ, as they themselves repeatedly insisted in their polemical writings.

We should believe them when they say so as doggedly and as often as they do. As my book as a whole argues, if we think eucharistic presence or union with Christ is a question "curtained off" from questions of saving union with Christ, it's because we're assuming a model of salvation which has little in common with both Reformed and Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth century. If our own model puts these questions in different boxes, a model which is foreign to theirs, we cannot hope to understand why they moved back and forth between salvation and sacrament so seamlessly and argued a point in one theological setting with a view to its relevance to both settings. This is the real Whig historiography. Just ask Luther or Zwingli what their debate was "really" about, and then ask Westphal and Calvin.  Read the exchanges between Calvin and Westphal. Those who point to ideas like predestination or the Supper as the only "real" differences between the Lutheran and Reformed traditions lack familiarity with the texts and the patterns of argument in the sixteenth century. Fesko's (and a few others') inability to make sense of what I argue regarding Calvin's 1559 refutation of Osiander reflects just this (very modern) inability. But more on that later on, d.v.

b. It would be defensible, I think, if I had focused largely and perhaps even exclusively on Calvin in my monongraph on Calvin, at least if I had done so responsibly. But despite this most recent claim in Fesko's essay, I did not examine only "a narrow cross-section of theologians, largely Calvin, Luther, and Melanchthon" (39). My chapter-length discussion of various late-medieval and Reformation trajectories on the ideas at issue includes material on late-medieval taxonomies of union (Altenstaig's 1517 Lexicon Theologicum) and the vocabulary of Eastern theologians and western spiritualists, medieval marriage sermons, a lot of (positive, incidentally) material on union with Christ in Luther's theological development (gladly leaning on the fine work of Heiko Oberman for this), Martin Bucer's model of a threefold justification, Peter Martyr Vermigli's location of justification within the context of regeneration, Melanchthon, and the sadly overlooked  contextual importance of the Regensburg Colloquy. In my analysis of Calvin's Romans commentary, I examined not only Calvin and Melancththon but also the Roman apologist John Eck, Grimani, Guillaud, Cajetan, Erasmus, Lefebvre, Bucer, and Vermigli. In the subsequent chapters I also look at Bullinger, Westphal, Lombard, Aquinas, Osiander (at great length), Brenz, Flacius, J. Andreae, and the Formula of Concord. I leave it to the reader to evaluate Fesko's claim in light of this tabulation.

c. Once again, please note that I am not arguing anything like "while I only referred to x I did read y" or "I was aware of and thinking of z." No one can read an author's mind; we only have their published work to evaluate. So I am referring only to what is objectively verifiable in the text that Fesko purports to criticize. In other words, I am evaluating the author's use of Life in Christ in the same way readers should evaluate his read of any other publication noted in his book. And again the author has, in my view, manifestly rendered an ill-founded judgment which misleads the reader. If a general guide is helpful, my analysis of Calvin in relation to Bucer, Vermigli, and Osiander (plus some minor figures) easily account for most - perhaps almost all - of the main argument in Life in Christ (chapters 2-5 plus appendixes), and this does not include Luther and Melanchthon whom Fesko does acknowledge I have examined. Indeed, on examination there is little in the book that looks only at Calvin; most of the book reads him in conversation with his most influential contemporaries.

d. Finally, we note the final words of the author in this paragraph introducing a new section: "... when we expand our study to explore other Reformed witnesses, it will become evident that causal language was present in the Reformed tradition during the sixteenth and seventeenth century." With this reminder of the author's goal in this essay, the reader is also reminded that the essay as a whole is an exercise in regrettable "shadow boxing:" it is trying vigorously to disprove a claim no one has made, certainly not the alleged interlocutors noted in the essay.

We will turn next to the author's brief summaries of Vermigli, Zanchi, and others.