Study notes on Caspar Olevian and Substance

I will write a formal review later.  R. Scott Clark has several fascinating sections reconstructing German Calvinism in the 16th century, along with rebutting the Heppe-thesis and such.  The review will cover those parts. This book is so useful on justification and covenant, that it could  serve the brethren and sisteren if its better quotes were put in an easily accessible bullet-point format.


The Basic Argument

“Considered objectively, the substance of the covenant is comprised of God’s saving acts in Christ and the explanation of those acts in Christian theology” (Clark xviii). The double benefit refers to the objective work of Christ for us and the sanctifying work of Christ in us.


The first few chapters place Olevian in his humanist and scholastic context.  It’s important at this point to get his Aristotelian terminology understood.

Primary substance: indivisible substances extra intellectum (Clark 60).  Think this-man, that-tree.

Secondary substance: think classes and kinds.  God is a primary substance.  The primary substance, if you will.  More importantly, “God” is not a genus, so he can’t be a secondary substance.

Olevian on Substance and God

Substance of the covenant: objective truths of the Christian religion summarized in Apostles’ Creed (67).


Olevian’s Trinitarian Doctrine of God

“Medieval soteriology….thought of infused grace (gratia infusa) as the means of final justification, Calvin made it the office of God the Spirit to infuse the elect, subsequent to justification, with the grace of sanctification” (83).

A person, as per the Trinity, is a subsistence “unsustained by any other” (97).

Trinity, Creation, and Substance

Substance is defined as “being’ because ‘being proper’ belongs to it” (101). Yet for Olevian substance is shorthand for “all that God has done for us in Christ. It was shorthand for the twofold benefit” (102).  The substance of the covenant describes the special relations between God and the elect.

Olevian’s Federalist Christology

Contrast with Lutheran Christology

  • genus maiestaticum: Christ’s humanity transformed by personal union with his deity (107).

Reformed Christology

  • Christ’s taking the form of a servant meant he had to take a true human nature, with all of its frailties (111).
  • extra calvinist

Brevis Admonitio: A Christological Federalism

“Olevian assumed a distinction between deity and humanity on the basis of his understanding of natura.  Chemnitz, on the other hand, assumed the possibility of different relations between Christ’s humanity and divinity on the basis of his understanding of degree (gradus) and class (genus)” (121).

Christ died as “sponsio” of the New Testament (130).

Justification: The First Benefit of the Covenant of Grace

Justification: First Part of the Double Benefit

  1. “Forgiveness of sins (remissio peccatorum) is the first “offered benefit” (oblatum beneficium) which is received by faith” (151).
  2. Christ’s righteousness is the ground of our justification, and is externally imputed to the believer.

Romanist View

Per Canisius:

  1. Justification is an ontological matter, a transformation (Clark 156).
  2. The beginning of justice is sufficient to satisfy God.  God “holds his judgment in abeyance until final justification or sanctification is achieved” (meritum de condigno; 156).
  3. Justification is a result of the mediation of grace.
  4. These benefits are applied in baptism (158). They are complex, not duplex.
  5. Christ fulfills these internally in us.  For Olevian, Christ has already fulfilled all righteousness (159).

Olevian’s Response

  1. Christ has already fulfilled all righteousness and we benefit through faith.
  2. “The voice of nature or law of the covenant requires that justice before God must be either completely proper or alien to oneself” (159).
  3. “Justification cannot be something accomplished within us, since Christ has already accomplished it externally” (160).

Sanctification: The Second Part of the Double Benefit

Our “renovatio was also promised on prevenient, unmerited divine mercy” (185).

Key point: Olevian’s Trinitarianism and “focus on God the Spirit, combined with the use of the covenant which had the effect of creating a locus in his theology for a doctrine of evangelical obedience without threatening his doctrine of justification by imputation” (187).

In other words, Olevian’s strong sanctification theology never fell to the dangers of Federal Visionism.


He held to a monergism in justification but saw a mutuality in the administration of the covenant of grace (190).

Means of Grace

“Because repentance is sanctification, it cannot be a condition of the remission of sins” (198).

There is an organic relationship between the sign and substance, so that “the signs themselves entail covenant stipulationes” (200).

Children are in the covenant, but the Lord’s Supper is a feast of covenant renewal, and infants are not eligible for it (205).


2 thoughts on “Study notes on Caspar Olevian and Substance

  1. Pingback: Ursinus on Baptism | Duplex Beneficium

  2. Pingback: A Reformed Scholastic Reader | American Tory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s