Paul Helm and Faculty Psychology

I was recently given a copy of Paul Helm’s Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards in exchange for an Amazon review.  I plan to have the review up this weekend.  I do want to post the notes and analysis of parts which wouldn’t make it into the review for length reasons.

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The Soul comprises three sets of powers (On the Trinity X.11).

  • Memory
  • Understanding
  • Will

Augustine has a complex understanding of will.  Sometimes it means “choice” between alternatives or the power of God in regeneration (Helm 12).

Thomas Aquinas

The soul informs the body.  When the body dies, many of the soul’s powers “hibernate.”  While the soul is not the person, in this state it carries the identity of the person until the resurrection (15).

The intellect is “a possessor of collective powers related in incredibly complex ways between itself and the memory, will, and affections” (16).

Specific to Thomas’s claim, and a claim the Reformed (and Roman Catholics) would generally maintain until recent times, was that the “soul itself acts via these various powers” (20).

The Anthropology of Calvin and Vermigli

The short of it is that Calvin took his cue from Plato, Vermigli from Aristotle.  There might be more to it, though. Calvin probably didn’t even intend that. It seems Calvin wanted a model of the soul that could account for life after death and a division of the capacities (33).

Free Will Controversy, Part One

In his debate with Pighius, Calvin uses “voluntas” to mean both the Augustinian “heart” and the choice a man makes (34).  In order to clear this confusion, Helm focuses on Calvin’s happy phrase that the fall is “adventitious” on human nature, not essential to it.

Body and Soul

Helm breaks new ground in this section.  Despite the differences and nuances of the various Platonisms and Aristotelianism of the post-Reformation period, all thinkers to a man held that the soul is not reducible to the body. They would have heartily rejected the Christian physicalism of some thinkers today.

The Soul as a Whole

  • The soul is nonspatial but nevertheless located in the body.
  • Animals have souls but only vegetative powers.

John Flavel:

  • A substance is a subject with properties.

Key shift: Cartesianism reassigned the various powers of the soul (74).


  • The soul has the power of indefinite self-persistence (76).
  • It is immortal by necessity of the consequence.

The Faculties and Powers of the Soul

Key idea: “The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (81).

Flavel: the will is sovereign over the body but not over other faculties of the soul.  In regeneration the will does not disturb conversion but is also changed by divine power (87).

Free Will Controversy, Part Two

Man’s free will is indexed to different states of man (e.g., fourfold state).  According to the post-Reformation thinkers, man’s “Freedom” relates to spiritual activity.  Man’s liberty relates to the capacities of our faculties.

Faculty Psychology

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared.  Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105).



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