SCRIPTURE USE AND PHILOSOPHY

This article is a summary of a paper that Vollenhoven delivered on 6 January 1953 during the study conference of the Society for Calvinist Philosophy.

Published in: Mededelingen van het Vereniging voor Calvinistisch Wijsbegeerteł Sept. 1953, p. 6-9.

TEXT

[Introduction]

[6] The theme, mentioned in the title of this paper, ought not to be identified with that of "Scripture and philosophy". Naturally the latter is here presupposed, but [7] our use of Scripture is something different from Scripture itself. For Scripture is Divine; our use of Scripture remains human; and while Scripture is holy, our use of Scripture always remains contaminated by sin. The use of Scripture therefore lies on the level of sinful human life, involved with the Holy Scriptures.

If we then speak about the Scripture use and philosophy, then it boils down to the question: "How do we have to use Scripture, when we are busy philosophically?"

This question of course is only asked in a Christian environment: where one does not take God and His word into account, this question of course does not play a role.

But even though this question occurs only in Christian circles, it is still not clear sorted out that the intention with which it is posed, is in every case justified. Already the word "use" here demands caution. For a wrong conception can - even though not necessarily - be at the base of this conception: this is the case when one departs from oneself and then asks: "What can I now attain with Scripture?" But, as has been said, such a conception which of course must be called a misconception, is not a necessity, thus this point can be left aside here.

More important is, that we do not in the first place philosophically busy ourselves with Scripture: to Scripture we have to go in the first place not as philosophical human beings, but as human beings without any title, without any pretence.

Holy Scriptures directs itself in the first place to practical life. To teaching, refutation, but simultaneously to comforting, in order that we shall have hope; in order that we as Christian will have an open view upwards; in order that we may know that in life there is a door, through which God comes to speak to His human race; a door also through which we with our answer to that Divine Word may direct ourselves to God.

Secondly: this Word makes us see the totality of the world, as God creates it. It tells us that world is created by God, and that we should never hold anything in the world as divine. Also this is in the first place intended for practice: no idolizing, neither of things not of human beings!

Furthermore God subjects the world to His law: loving obedience is the first which is required of everybody.

In all of this there is initially no question about special science or philosophy. Practice accords with this: there are millions who recognize the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, who have learnt to trust God on His Word; and of these millions there more than ninety five per cent who do not participate in special science and philosophy.

Yet Holy Scripture does have something to do with philosophy. But how, precisely, is this relationship?

  1. [Use of Scripture and philosophy viewed from the history of thought]

To answer this question we first have to have a look at history.

[A. Synthesis-thinking]

The past teaches that in Christian circles this relationship was mostly established wrongly. Some departed from an originally pagan conception and then turned to Holy Scriptures. The result was then a combination of pagan concepts with Scriptural themes. In other words: synthesis.

No in the relevant textbooks the habit is to finish off the history of synthesis philosophy very briefly. It is understandable: whoever is not interested in the relationship between Scripture and philosophy, will not find synthesis thinking and it results very interesting. Yet this viewpoint cannot be correct. For synthesis put many new themes on the agenda. Apart from this it dominated during about fifteen centuries the South- and Western-European thought. Two grounds for one, not to take it as a game.

On closer inspection this era appears to cover three periods. The first of these is that of Early Christian thought, the second that of the Middle Ages, the last that of the Pre-Reformation and "Christian" Humanism.

The first synthesis was the most original: the Middle Ages re-worked its results in scholastic, that is in a scholarly fashion, and the third tried, anti-scholastically and circumventing the Middle Ages, to revive the Early Christian thought, but had to find in disappointment that this did not work.

One can, however, not be satisfied with just this distinction of periods. For already during the first period it comes to surface that the synthesis took place in different ways. One can mainly distinguish here three types of relationships.

The oldest is the "inlaying" and exegesis method. When one followed this method, one searched in Holy Scripture for something of philosophy, and one found, as one thought, the idea which one already had in Scripture. This happened unintentionally: do not think that the early Christians posed the question: "How do I combine my system with Holy Scriptures?" Also this, that the Old Testament often was only read in Greek, and the New Testament was written in Greek, did play a role. A single example may be sufficient. Somebody had already become an adherent of a philosophy in which the term "logos" occupied an important place. When now he started reading John 1, then there he also found the term "logos", but I a totally different meaning. This is however not perceived, and thus one easily came to transferring this concept, which one carried along from education and study, into Scriptures. This was of course not exegesis, but an inlaying: one transferred one's own conception into Scriptures without actually knowing it oneself. And then one declares that one retained the earlier philosophical idea, but now strengthened, since it was not based upon human authority, but on the authority of God's Word.

This method of course ended in a cul-de-sac. For automatically it did not remain at only one conception which one thought of as being confirmed by Scripture: the number of "Christian" philosophies which originated in this way became very soon as large as the number of pagan conceptions which existed before! Among these were some, which the church rejected, but also others, which were not condemned by the church.

In the mean time one found at the time also Christians who perceived that what they brought with them was something different from what Holy Scripture presented. These thus also showed aversion to the inlaying-exegesis method. But even they did say: there is only one philosophy: the Greek-Hellenistic one, and this they retained. But one wanted also to believe what Holy Scripture presented, and perceived that there were clashes in certain points. Thus one judged that the truth of Scripture and that of philosophy stood in a paradoxical relationship. This was the viewpoint of a thinker such as Tertullian.

Then there was a third conception: that of nature and grace. It is quite old: we already find it expressed in the synod of Orange (529 a. D.). According to this conception one has to distinguish between "nature" and "super-nature"; Adam received in his state of uprightness the super-nature, but forfeited this through the fall into sin; through grace the supernatural is recovered in the Christian. Philosophy adopted from the pagan thinkers here belongs to area of nature. But this philosophy did also think about God; it had its own picture of God. This was [8] a different one from that of the church, which was linked partly to Holy Scripture, partly to the inlaying-exegesis method. Through this one found a duality also here, just as in the paradoxical connection. Yet one was not at all in agreement with the latter: the mutual relationship between the pagan and the church view was not a paradoxical, but was called the "preliminary" and the "fulfillment".

Here you have the three ways of linking of synthesis philosophy. They succeeded in sustaining themselves also later; one recognizes them in the three-way conflict during the early Middle Ages, which raged in a scholastic way between thinkers such as William of Champeaux, Peter of Damian, and Lanfrance of Bec. That which gradually changed in the course of history, was only the recruiting power of the three: through this the theme of nature-grace, which had relatively few adherents during the era of the church fathers, came to the forefront during the flourishing of scholasticism. But also the two other themes remained alive. And even now the biblical humanists follow the inlaying-exegesis method, the followers of Kierkegaard live from the paradox, and not only Roman Catholic thinkers but also Protestant one's follow the theme of nature and grace.

Whoever perceives this, understands that the struggle that we have to conduct in order to arrive at a Scriptural philosophy free of all synthesis, is very difficult.

[B. Scriptural philosophy]

But what do we mean/intend with the term "Scriptural philosophy"?

In the first place that we do not go to Scripture with our own conception in order to have this sanctioned by It, but to let Scripture have the say in our lives, from childhood.

Now nobody is born as philosopher. Everybody comes into the world as a child. Everybody starts his life of knowledge with the non-scientific knowledge of everyday experience. The infant learns something from mother. The infant is a small human being. You must not expect too much of the adult from the infant soul. But on the other hand: do not represent it is if small children are actually little animals who can do nothing but perceive with their senses and notice warmth and food from the mother. There is also, in the young child - because it is a young human being - love and trust. This is the way Holy Scripture view the small human being. David knows about it - that he trusted in God while he was still an infant. This is of course not a faith that can express itself in words, but there is a being-dedicated to God through the trust of faith of the parents; there is also sometimes a direct bond in trust in God, a being-fortressed in His love.

Then we grow up and we come to know our parents, our brothers and sisters, our environment; first the cradle, then the room, then the garden, the street, friends, the school.

All these are non-scientific knowledge. And now this is the beauty of it: this knowledge is not a phase that passes. Much of childhood passes, but the non-scientific knowledge remains: you know one another as man and woman with non-scientific knowledge, you know as parents your children with non-scientific knowledge; you complete the major part of your business with non-scientific knowledge.

Gradually a vision develops, a unity of looking, that is not-at-all a science and therefore not a philosophy, but a life-and-worldview: people talk of "humanism", "Catholicism", "Lutheranism", "Calvinism".

What is Calvinism?

This is also non-scientific knowledge. But it is more than a collection of knowledge which rests on expansion of the horizon, come into touch with different people from time to time, expansion of an area of observation: it is the vision which was given you at home, or which you have acquired with difficulty. It is not a scientific conception, but a view of God, of the world, of life, of man, of your fellowman, also of yourself.

Such a view imprints its stamp on the human being: you read from the face of some humanists see the being-humanist, of some Roman Catholics the being-Roman Catholic; there are also true Calvinist heads. But such a view is not at all science. There are sturdy Calvinists, men and women, who do not study, who cannot or will not, but although they themselves have neither time nor desire for scientific work, yet they carry and stimulate the Calvinist action with prayers, interests and gifts.

Against this background I arrive at scientific knowledge.

It includes special scientific knowledge, which limits itself to one area. But also philosophical knowledge. These two do not have a clear connection with one another, but they do not coincide. For philosophy is the science which wants to learn from all special sciences, because it is interested in all things. But then it proceeds questioning, because its concern is also the internal connections of the fields of investigation, of which the special sciences are each given only one. It also asks questions about the methods, which are applied in each special science in order to make progress.

Philosophy is thus the general science.

But not a catchment basin.

What the life-view is for the non-scientific knowledge, that philosophy is for scientific knowledge.

[C. The relationship between non-scientific and scientific knowledge]

How is the relationship between non-scientific and scientific knowledge?

You are never rid of the non-scientific. When you go to study, you are building on your non-scientific knowledge. There was a time when science, in a criticistic way, viewed all non-scientific knowledge as something that had to be overcome. But they have come back from that position. Also the man of science departs from sounds and colours - really they exist! Not in us, but outside of us! The colour is out there, and the sound you hear from so many meters distant; it exists outside of our thought, and from that we depart. And only when one clings to that, you can proceed further and study. Otherwise everything becomes confused and you have nothing left, by virtue of the criticism of your labyrinthine science.

Now you need, when you proceed, also the general vision of philosophy. But also that is in accord with the non-scientific knowledge; it builds on it and thinks about it.

In the non-scientific knowledge also the knowledge from faith plays a role. If you do not believe, but remain in unbelief, you get a philosophy in which that unbelief, that error plays a role. But when you belief God on His Word and trust in that Word, you get a philosophy, of which that non-philosophical, non-scientific faith in Holy Scriptures and in God forms the basis.

Faith does not become philosophical through this.

Holy Scripture begins with this majestic: in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Whoever believes that, is not on that account man of woman of science. But you can tranquilly keep on believing this, even when you go to study. For there is no science which can take that away from you: whoever looses his faith because of the academe, does not loose it as a consequence of any investigation: he lost in the struggle against that unbelief which also supports itself among others with the help of many a pagan tradition in science.

Thus you can build your science on your faith in Scriptures and Christ.

And thus you also acquire a philosophy which, in the field of science, succeeds in the same as Calvinism for the life-and-worldview in the non-scientific area.

II. [The Basis of Calvinist Philosophy]

Calvinist philosophy therefore has to depart from a non-scientific basis. In fact every philosophy does that. But not every philosophy takes account of this.

The said basis is given to us in Holy Scriptures. Exactly for this reason It's contents ought not to serve as superstructure, neither in the paradoxical nor in the Roman Catholic way. And equally the Scripture may not be exegeted in a philosophical sense, and a fortiori not in the spirit of a pagan interpretation.

If one wants to take both the first and the second seriously, then one will have to study pagan thought thoroughly in its history: only in this way one will be able to understand its dilemmas and refute them.

As an example of such a dilemma I mention that of monism versus dualism. Under monism one understands the idea of unity, which implies that God and world are (supposedly) the same, or that a unity (supposedly) exists, from which God and world both have their origin. Under dualism one understands that correlation, according to which any God and something else - world or matter - are originally one another's correlate. Dualism is therefore something different than recognition of duality: whoever confesses that created the world will tranquilly recognize that God and world are two; but at the same he will, exactly because of his faith in creation, forcefully reject the dualist idea that God and world are both eternal or both temporal.

Correlated, on the contrary, are the law and the things subject to it: for a law without something for which it is valid is equally meaningless as a subject without law.

Now as is known, the law plays an important role in Calvinist thought. Talking about the law of the Ten Commandments, one has to distinguish with regard to it a trinity of use: it is bridle for the godlessness, disciplinarian to Christ, and rule of sanctification. At the root of the matter this trinity of use goes back to one theme: the law as commandment of love is norm for human life. For initially kept in Paradise, this law came to stand over against us with its curse, when it, after having been transgressed, did not let go of its demand; while it is now, after Christ fulfilled it, recognized again by the Christian as norm for his/her life.

The law in this sense remains outside and above us: even when, as in the state of uprightness and with Christ, life is in accordance with it, it does not coincide with it. For the demand: "thou shalt" is something different from the fulfillment of the demand.

Calvinist philosophy can only affirm both the one and the other. In the mean time it meets the term "law" also in another sense. One speaks namely also of "law in the cosmos" and of "positive law".

When the special sciences search for laws and formulate their preliminary results, it intends to discover the regularity in the cosmos. Already for this reason the law in this sense is different from the commandment of love. Over and above this, the searched-for regularity means that which is in accordance with the commandment of love as well as that which is in conflict with it: thus one can equally give statistics of the number of marriages and births as of the number of murders and divorces. With this the opposition of good and evil, love and hatred, obedience and disobedience to the commandment of love is not lost, but crosswise over it lies the opposition of regularity and irregularity.

The mutual relationship between these two laws is not that of higher and lower functions. For the commandment of love claims the totality of the human being, and statistical calculation of the regularity and irregularity does equally have meaning for the knowledge of higher as for the knowledge of lower functions. This relationship is just as little reducible to a duality of the source of knowledge, even if the commandment of love can only be found through Scriptures; the regularity on the contrary without It. For the meaning of the commandment of love only becomes clear to us when we investigate the history of the cosmos, and the history of the cosmos, which continues to play an important role in the searched-for regularity, is not to be understood, without one taking into account the main lines of its history as given in the Holy Scriptures.

From the one and the other it already follows that, even though incorrect conceptions regarding the mutual relationships of these laws are to be rejected, the two do indeed have a mutual coherence.

This coherence firstly lies in God. For behind both these laws His will stands: one thinks here of the old distinction of the will of command and the will of decision.

This distinction one should equate with that of revealed and hidden will. For the first distinction refers to the will of God apart from His knowability; the other the relationship of this willing to our knowledge. Apart from this the will to command is by far not totally clear to us, while on the other hand also the will to decision, in as far as the decision has already been realized, can be investigated by us.

In this way finally the meaning of positive law becomes understandable. This law is surely not the formula for the discovered regularity: it does not register, describe and declare, but intends to direct life in a certain direction. But is equally not identical with the commandment of love: it proves repeatedly necessary, precisely on the basis of the intended commandment, to criticize a construct of a law, and if this struggle remains fruitless, to attempt to replace the regulation, elevated into positive law, as soon as possible by a better one. But exactly because the positive law is neither identical with the law as regularity nor with the commandment of love, it can bring the two together: for the positive law has exactly this meaning, that it positivises Gods commandment of love in its specification for a qualified societal structure - for a specific societal structure during a specific period. For this reason a positive law binds only those who belong to the relevant societal structure during its validity. But they then also bind them as commandment of God, even if only indirectly: one thinks here of the motivation of this respect in the Heidelberg Catechism: "since it pleases God to govern them through their hand".

Of course many questions remain here. In what is offered here one should see only an attempt, which wants to contribute to showing, how also in its analysis of the concept of law Calvinist philosophy remaining truthful to its religious basis, has an open eye for the needs of both special science and of practice.


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