John Calvin on Original Sin and Human Nature, Predestination, and the Sacraments
Extracts from Christianae Religionis Institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion) Calvin Op. ii. 3I sq. (edition of 1559) [The first edition of the Institutes wars published 1536 when Calvin was twenty-six. It was several times revised but there was no development in Calvin's thought after the fast edition. Calvin's genius was for organization rather than theological speculation]
Book II. chap. i . . . Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed, no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence [a strong, especially sexual desire, lust] have used a word by no means wide of the mark, if it were added (and this is what many do not concede) that whatever is in man from intellect to will, from the soul to the flesh, is all defiled and crammed with concupiscence; or, to sum it up briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing but concupiscence. . . .
Chap. iv . . . . The old writers often shrink from the straightforward acknowledgement of the truth in this matter, from motives of piety. They are afraid of opening to the blasphemers a widow for their slanders concerning the works of God. While I salute their restraint, I consider that there is very little danger of this if we simply hold to the teaching of Scripture. Even Augustine is not always emancipated from that superstitious fear; as when he says [Of Predestination and Grace, §§ 4. 5) that ‘hardening’ and ‘blinding’ refer not to the operation of God, but to his foreknowledge. But there are so many sayings of Scripture, which will not admit of such fine distinctions; for they clearly indicate that God’s intervention consists in something more than his fore knowledge. . . . In the same way their suggestions as to God's ‘permission.’ are too weak to stand. It is very often said that God blinded and hardened the reprobate, that he turned, inclined, or drove on their hearts . . . . And no explanation of such statements is given by taking refuge in ‘foreknowledge’ or ‘permission.’ We therefore reply that this [process of hardening and blinding] comes about in two ways: When his light is removed, nothing remains but darkness and blindness when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts harden into stone; when his guidance ceases, we are turned from the straight path. And so he is rightly said to blind, to harden, to turn, those from whom he takes away the ability to see, to obey, to keep on the straight path. But the second way is much nearer the proper meaning of the words; that to carry out his judgments he directs their councils and excites their wills, in the direction which he has decided upon, through the agency of Satan, the minister of his wrath . . . .
Book III. Chap. xxi. No one who wishes to be thought religious dares outright to deny predestination by which God chooses some for the hope of life, and condemns others to eternal death. But men entangle it with captious quibbles; and especially those who make foreknowledge the ground of it. We indeed attribute to God both predestination and foreknowledge; but we call it absurd to subordinate one to the other. When we attribute foreknowledge to God we mean that all things have ever been, and eternally remain, before his eyes; to that to his knowledge nothing is future or past, but all things are present; and present not in the sense that they are reproduced in imagination (as we are aware of past events which are retained in our memory), but present in the sense that he really sees and observes them placed, as it were, before his eyes. And this foreknowledge extends over the whole universe and over every creature. By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he has decided in his own mind what he wishes to happen in the case of each individual. For all men are not created on an equal footing, but for some eternal life is pre‑ordained, for others eternal damnation. . . . .
Book IV. chap xiv. Concerning Sacraments. . . . . It is convenient first of all to notice what a Sacrament is. Now the following seems to me to be a simple and proper definition of a Sacrament. An external symbol by which the Lord attests in our consciences his promises of good will towards us to sustain the inferiority of our faith, and we on our part testify to our piety towards him as well in his presence and before the angels as in the sight of men. Another way of putting it, more condensed but equally sound, would be: A testimony of God's grace to us confirmed by an external sign, with our answering witness of piety towards him. . . .
Chap. xvii. Concerning the Sacred Supper of Christ. . . .That sacred communication of his own flesh and blood by which Christ pours his life into us just as if he were to penetrate into the marrow of our bones, he witnesses and attests in the Supper. And that he does not by putting before us a vain or empty sign, but offering there the efficacy of his Spirit, by which he fulfils his promise. And in truth he offers and displays the thing there signified to all who share that spiritual feast; though only by the faithful is it perceived and its fruits enjoyed. . . . If it is true that the visible sign is to attest the granting of the invisible reality, then, on receiving the symbol of the body, we may be confident that the body itself is no less given to us. . . .