English 233: Introduction to Western
Humanities Baroque & Enlightenment
Study Guide to the exchange between
Calvin and Cardinal Sadoleto
on the proper end of human
- Q-1. What can we infer is Calvin's theory of the
ultimate purpose God was pursuing in creating the
universe (and time, history) in the first place?
- What is the connection between this view of
divine providence and the doctrine of the
"fortunate Fall" ( or felix culpa)?
Q-2. In addition to the premise Calvin chooses
for his point of attack, Cardinal Sadoleto relies on
another, namely, that in deciding questions in which the
answer cannot be decided with certainty (such as with
questions of faith, about which sincerely held opinions
have a history of differing), we should look to
considerations of "probability" and
"risk": where are we "more likely" to
be right. You will recognize this as the sort of question
that insurance companies pose when they compose their
actuarial tables for determining how much they should
charge for issuing a policy covering such-and-such a
contingency. The assumption here is that even when there
is no demonstrably clear answer, there can still be a
"rational" way of approaching the question,
instead of confessing that we are confronted with the
necessity for a "blind leap of faith" (an
abandonment of ourselves to sheer irrationality).
- A century later, the Jansenist Catholic
philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal
(after whom the computer programming language
"PASCAL" is named) would lay the
foundations of modern mathematical probability
theory. Some of you are acquainted with the role
played in this by "Pascal's triangle,"
the arrangement of co-efficients in the expansion
of the binomial expression (a + b)n.
Pascal would try to formulate a version of
probabilistic argument directed against the
indifference of the religious skeptic or
unbeliever. (Sadoleto, in contrast, is speaking
to an opponent operating from within what he
thought was a shared overall framework of
religious agreement.) Pascal's famous argument is
known as "the wager" (and ever since as
"Pascal's wager"). It goes like this:
if God does not exist, the skeptic loses nothing
by believing in Him; if God does exist, the
skeptic loses everything by not believing in Him,
but wins everything (eternal life) by believing
in Him. The rational gambler must therefore (he
asserts) choose to believe in God.
- The common tactical move here (between
Spoleto and Pascal) is to try to find
some anchorage in Reason for dealing indirectly
with questions that are not directly
amenable to Reason, so as not to be left
with the alternative of confessing Faith
to be altogether irrational or at
least to exploit whatever leverage is
available for Faith (however
arrived at in one's own case) in virtue
of the rational element of the human
constitution of others.
- Certain theologians (including
Catholic ones) will be inclined
to question whether this approach
can result in the kind of
Faith that is required for
salvation. Calvin's response
(despite its warnings about the
risks of being directly
concerned with salvation) is
essentially of this nature.
Q-3. There is still a third premise in
Spoleto's argument beyond the two already singled out.
This is that the age of the Church, as opposed to the
"novelty" of Geneva Protestantism, is a
consideration that weighs in favor of the probability of
its representations being true. This is essentially an
appeal to the authority of tradition.
- What arguments would you expect a Protestant to
imagine as weighing against such an appeal as
Q-4. What can you imagine might be the lines of
response Cardinal Spoleto might consider take to Calvin's
Q-5. If the goal of human life is "to
hallow the name of God," what do you figure are the
means by which Calvin figures this is to be accomplished?
- Q-6. Whatever these means might be, would they not
constitute a species of "works"? Yet if, as
Calvin holds, works are irrelevant to salvation, which
depends instead wholly upon God's election-from-eternity
(predestination), do we have an inconsistency here? What
would Calvin reply to this question?
Return to the exchange between Calvin
and Bishop Spoleto.
Return to Readings in Calvinism.
Return to Reading List #2.
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