Troilus and Criseyde (Chaucer)

Imagine a high classical version of Romeo and Juliet. The characters have a higher (although not by much) IQ. If one has read Shakespeare’s version, then this will not have the same shock value (though the ending is pretty obvious in these types of situations). Chaucer writes this in “Royal Rime:” seven line stanzas in a-b-a-bb-cc.

Troilus is the son of King Priam and brother of Hector. Criseyde is the widow of a Trojan soldier. Pandar, Criseyde’s uncle, serves as the middleman between the two.

I will not spoil too much of the story; rather, I will use this space to quote Troilus’s famous monologue on Necessity vs. Free Will. Chaucer is no doubt summarizing late medieval debates about predestination and necessity. This easily surpasses most systematic theologies in terms of sophistication and clarity.

(From Book IV, stanzas 137ff)

“For all that comes, comes by necessity,
Thus to be done for is my destiny.”

This is obviously a strong version of determinism. Troilus does not actually maintain this position.

“For if there were the slightest hesitation
Or any slip in God’s foreordering,
Foreknowledge then were not a certain thing.”

This is certainly true. What Troilus does not understand is that God’s knowing of a thing does not force one’s actions. He asks the correct question: does necessity reside in the event itself?

“Of all the human things we call events
Or does necessity in them reside.
And thus ordaining cause for them provide?”

Is the event itself the causal factor? Maybe proximately.

Troilus, unfortunately, is not able to maintain the balance between necessity and contingency. He opts for fatalism:

“And by these arguments you may well see
That all things that on the earth befall,
By plain necessity, they happen all.”

In philosophical terms, Troilus committed a modal fallacy.

P1. ☐, if Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal, then Judas would betray Christ.
P2. Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal.
C1: ☐, Judas betrayed Christ.

This fallacy confuses the necessity of the inference with the necessity of the consequent (a more absolute necessity). The inference of Q from the premises ☐ (P⊃Q) is necessary in accordance with modus ponens. But Q itself, the consequent of the conditional ☐ (P⊃Q), is not itself necessary.

Take premise Q by itself (Judas would betray Christ). It does not exist in isolation. It is not a necessarily self-generating proposition. It is only necessary as a conditional necessity within the syllogism. This is what the older Reformed writers called “the necessity of the consequence,” in distinction from the necessity of the consequent thing.

Back to the book. Although this is a poem about pagan heroes, Chaucer, for whatever reason, ends with a beautiful hymn to the Trinity:

“O Thou eternal Three and Two and One
Reigning forever in One and Two and Three,
Boundless, but binding all through Father and Son,
From Foes unseen and seen deliver me;
And blessed Jesus turn our love to thee…


John Wyclif, Scriptural Logic, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy

Levy, Ian Christopher.  John Wyclif: Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy. Marquette University Press, 2003.

John Wyclif is best known for his Bible translation, but what is often overlooked is the strong metaphysical realism that undergirds his view of the Bible and will determine what conclusions he draws about the Eucharist.

Medieval Philosophical Background

In his response to the Neo-Pelagians Wyclif places himself in the conservative wing of the medieval church.  Most important is the distinction between potentia Dei absoluta and potentia Dei ordinata.  While it was never intended to speculate on what outrageous things God could or couldn’t do, it led in that direction.

The Metaphysics of John Wyclif

Wyclif was a strong realist.

Grosseteste: all knowledge found in the divine intellect (Levy 49-50).

Wyclif’s three-fold scheme:

1. Universal of causation (God). universale ante rem

2. Universal of communication (human nature; angelic, etc). They are communicated to a number of subjects. Universale in re

3. Universal of representation.  They represent real universals. Universale post rem.

Wyclif’s Theological Realism

God knows his creation primarily through universals and secondarily through individuals. God knows the creature’s essence even when it doesn’t yet have existence. We distinguish between the creature’s essence and the means by which it subsists through the divine exemplar (55).

Christ the Word is the principal of all creation.

Predication: all words of predication are grounded in the Word (57).  “All things are created in their effects from an eternal intellectual knowledge.”  To lose universals is to get lost in theories of signs (per Occam).  Levy doesn’t mention it, but that is the entire project of Derrida.

There is an immediate payoff in his eucharistic theology. No particle of the universe can be annihilated.  This means that the essence of bread can’t be destroyed as the Mass would require.

Medieval Eucharistic Theology

Ratramnus: relationship between truth and figure. Christ’s resurrected body is impassible and can’t be crunched on and decayed as in the Mass.

Berengar vs Lanfrac

The Confession of 1059.  Even though Berengar lost the debate, his “Confession” created more problems.  If the elements do not remain, then there is no subject to which the predicate (corpus meum) applies (139).

The elements undergo a conversion in dignity but not in substance.


The conversion is one of transition, not union.  A substance isn’t being added to another substance.

Thomas Aquinas

The Early Wyclif

Wyclif accepted transubstantial language early in his career. At the heart of his concern, though, was the intention of the Divine Author (217).  Doubts plagued him, though.  If the elements “disappear” or are annihilated, would this not call the integrity of God’s creation into question?

The annihilation of a substance requires the annihilation of its eternal form.  This part is tricky.  He isn’t saying that when a thing is temporally destroyed (a person’s dying; food eaten, etc) that its eternal form is also threatened.  What realist metaphysics demands is that the eternal Idea causes the form’s exemplar.  The eternal idea of x is found in the mind of God.  There is a correlation between its existence and the existence of the Idea.  Wyclif is saying that if the ectype of the bread ceases to exist, then the eternal idea of the bread no longer exists.  This needs some work.

Think of it this way.  Imagine that there is a string between the eternal exemplar in God’s mind (x) and its instantiation in the world (y).  Imagine that both are “attached” to their respective places (e.g., God’s mind and the world).  Wyclif’s argument seems to be that if you rip out y and throw it away, you rip out x as well, leaving holes in God’s mind.

Perhaps.  The argument is open to several rebuttals, namely that there might be an exemplar without its instantiation.

Wyclif’s Negative Argument

In the phrase “Hoc est corpus meum,” Wyclif argues that “Hoc” refers to a figural presence (though he does allow for some sort of bodily presence later on).  “If the pronoun demonstrates what is already Christ’s body, then nothing new is constituted; and if the pronoun connotes the body of Christ as that which is under the accidents without functioning as their subject, then that is just contrary to Scripture” (246).

Wyclif’s other main argument is that accidents can’t subsist without a subject.  If this holds, then it strikes at the heart of transubstantiation.


Levy does a fine job surveying the Latin sources.  Each page is about ⅔ English with ⅓ Latin text at the bottom.

Works of William Perkins vol 6

I want to thank R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog for help making this review possible.

Perkins, William.  The Works of William Perkins vol. 6. Eds. Joel Beeke and Greg Salazar. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018.

One of the casualties inflicted upon the Reformed world by the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd is the reducing of the Reformed faith to predestination.  A further casualty is misunderstanding the richness of predestination.  William Perkins corrects both. The latter half of the book is a refutation of Alexander Dickson’s hermetic memory techniques.  Perkins uses the teachings of Peter Ramus to refute them.

The Golden Chain

This is an early body of divinity.  In some respects it anticipates the structure of the Shorter Catechism. While some of his remarks on the doctrine of God echo the content in volume five, they are nonetheless worth repeating.  God’s nature is simple in that “whatever is in God is his essence” (Perkins 13).

A divine person is distinguished by a personal property, or its manner of subsisting in the divine essence (20). When God begets the Son, he begets him “within Himself” (21). Any subordination is ruled out, though one may speak of a logical ordering of the persons.

God ordained certain men to salvation to the praise of his glory (46). That is God’s decree.  It is not identified with the execution of it, which has three parts: the foundation (Christ), the means, and the degrees.  Because Christ is mediator, he is not subordinate to the decree of election, but only to the execution of it (48).


Perkins has some valuable discussion on the ten commandments, a few of which we will explore in detail.  Given his background, we are not surprised to see his responses to occultism.  He writes that “Albeit the devils cannot work miracles, yet may they effect marvels or wonders…by causing a thin body (as the air) to be thick and foggy…The foundation of magic is  a covenant with Satan” (82).

In the third commandment he sees a rebuke to astrology, which he identifies with magic (93).

In the seventh commandment he notes that having sex with the devil is a violation of it (125). Quite true. He also sees a violation in “effeminacy.”  That does not mean not acting like a manly manly man.  Rather, it is idle wantonness which stirs up lust.

I found it interesting on the eighth commandment that he says “idleness” is a violation of it, or living like you have no calling (133). Perkins rightly condemns usury (135), though he understands there are times when both can agree on something above the return.

I’m not sure his talk on “just price” works.  A “just price is then observed when as things prized and the price given for them are made equal” (138). This sounds good; it’s impossible to do.

On the sacraments I urge the reader to consult the charts in the book.

On fighting sin: if you are struggling with lingering sin, “accustom yourself to subdue the lesser sins, that at last you may overcome the greater” (200).

On Free Will

The Order of Predestination

The supreme end is God’s glory (305). The means of accomplishing this is creation and the permission of the fall. God’s will does not cause the fall. Rather, God did not give Adam his confirming grace.

To show that God doesn’t will evil, Perkins explains the complex taxonomy of the will. God either wills a thing itself (such as creation), or the event (sin).  He does not effect the event; rather, he doesn’t hinder it (322).

When God wills a thing, he either wills absolute (the good in itself), nil (wills that x doesn’t exist), or partly both (wills not the being but the event).

The human will is “a power of willing, nilling, choosing, refusing, suspending which depends on reason.  By ‘power’ I mean an ability or created faculty” (395). A will has the property of liberty whereby “it is free from compulsion or restraint, but not from all necessity”(396). Perkins has in mind the “necessity of infallibility” (396). God’s infallibility orders man’s will, yet there is no compulsion. God decrees the secondary causes by which the will naturally works (430).

God’s will is the “beginning or first cause of all things…and of all their motions” (397). God not only wills the being of all things, but their goodness as well. 

Regarding man’s act of willing, there are five moments (405);

1) action of the mind

2) deliberation of the means to accomplish (1)

3) a determination

4) the choosing to do or not do

5) the free movement

Even after the fall, man has all of the above.  What he often lacks is strength.

Perkins notes three graces that move in our conversion:

1) Preventing grace: God imprints a new light in our mind.

2) working grace: God gives to the will the act of well-willing.

3) coworking grace: God gives the deed to the will (424).

On Memory

This section is rather difficult because it relies on key Ramist distinctions (which Perkins doesn’t always explain) and he is dealing with rather bizarre occultists. Alexander Dickson, following the hermeticist Giordano Bruno, developed a mnemonic device.  That sounds innocent enough.  On first glance it looks stupid, but harmless.  There’s more going on.  Bruno and others believed they were tapping into the divine mind by means of sigils and mental locations.  That’s approaching rather dangerous ground.

It seems Dickson is saying that if you place items in mental locations, you can recall them better.  I think that is what he is saying.  It really isn’t clear, nor is it clear exactly how this works. Frances Yates explains it this way: Imprint on the memory a series of loci or places. Pretend you are using a spacious building. The places should form a series and be remembered in order.  Give each fifth locus some distinguishing mark.

The danger is when Dickson suggested a ready-made “building” for one’s memory: the Zodiac.  Now we are bordering on open magic.

Dickson’s memory chart.  This is actually Perkins’ analysis of Dickson.

(From McKim)

We rejoice that the works of William Perkins are now available and accessible.  This is a great volume because it takes predestination to the next level of understanding it rescues Reformed theology from the claim that it subordinates Christ to the decree of election.

Works of William Perkins, vol 5

Perkins, William. The Works of William Perkins, Volume 5. Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Recent Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not the scholastics.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

Perkins defines faith as “a supernatural gift of God in the mind, apprehending the saving promise with all of the promises that depend on it” (Perkins 11).

Doctrine of God

God is a spiritual essence. His nature admits of no composition or form (19). Concerning his nature, Perkins notes that “By nature is meant a thing subsisting by itself that is common to many” (24). A person is a thing or essence that subsists but is incommunicable.

Side note: Perkins says “plain reason will show there is a God” (494).

The whole Godhead is “communicated from the Father to the Son, and from both Father and Son to the Holy Ghost” (24). Because of this, we must have doctrines like eternal generation. We distinguish the Father by his personal property of begetting. Moreover, “We distinguish between generation itself and the manifestation of it (Ps. 2) (109).”

The personal relations are notionally distinct from the divine essence, but realistically (in the traditional sense of the term) one with it (27). This does not make a quaternity, as the persons are modes of the Godhead, not distinct entities.

Perkins anticipates and rebuts the wicked heresy of eternal subordination. He notes that the Father is not set before the Son “in regard of time or dignity….but in regard of order only” (28). Commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3, the Father is “head of Christ” only as he is “God incarnate or made manifest in the flesh and in respect of the office to which he willingly abased himself” (11). Concerning 1 Cor. 15:24, this means only that his kingdom shall cease in respect of the outward manner of administration” (111).

Continuing with his treatment of classical theology, Perkins discusses the inseparable operations. The actions of God are twofold, inward and outward. An inward action is one “which one person does exercise toward another, as the Father does beget the Son” (43).

His take on the Filioque is quite interesting. He argues that when a divine person sends another, he communicates his whole essence to him. If both the Father and the Son send the Spirit, then they communicate their one essence to him (308). As it stands it needs more argument, but it is an interesting idea.

God’s Counsel and Man’s Sin

God’s counsel does not hinder the will of man, “but only order and dispose it” (46). God’s counsel is necessary in regard to the highest cause, but contingent regarding secondary causes, which include the wills of man. Regarding Adam’s fall, God did not take away his free will; he only ordered it (86). “God is a moving cause of the wills of evil men” (87). This does not entangle him in the defect of evil.


Perkins has an excellent section on the theologia unionis. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit and his human nature received certain created gifts. The first is the “sanctification of the mass or lump which was to be the manhood of Christ” (126). The sanctification stopped the propagation of original sin and guilt. The second part infused holiness into the human nature.

Perkins has a good take on the autotheos controversy. In regard of the Son’s person, he is from the Father; in regard to the Godhead he is of himself.

On the Cross

When Jesus cried “why have you forsaken me?” did that entail Nestorianism? Did it imply a severing of the human nature from the divine nature? (This was always a danger latent in saying Jesus experienced hell). Perkins notes it in no way implied a severing. Rather, “the Godhead of the Father did not show forth his power in the manhood but did as it were lie asleep for a time, that the manhood might suffer” (188).

Death of the Body

The body dies when the soul is separated from it (83). When Christ died “his body and [human] soul were really and wholly severed” (197). This is common-sense. Perkins then adds a degree of precision that probably isn’t found elsewhere in the literature: “For as when he was living, His soul was a mean or bond to unite his Godhead and his body together, so when he was dead, his very Godhead was a mean or middle bond to unite the body and soul. To say otherwise is to dissolve the hypostatic union, by virtue whereof Christ’s body and soul, though severed from each other, yet both were still joined to the Godhead of the Son” (228).

The Fathers believed that Christ’s human soul was the middle point, or interface, between the divine nature and the flesh. This makes sense, as it is both created and immaterial. When Christ died, his Godhead held body and soul together.

Perkins realizes that “descended into Hell” wasn’t part of the Creed originally. He wants to avoid the idea that Christ accidentally (or maybe intentionally) got roasted a bit in his humiliation. Both sides kind of miss the point, though. The Creed collapsed several Greek words into the word “Hell.” Jesus probably raided Sheol or Hades. He didn’t go into Dante’s Hell. Even the passage in 1 Peter where the Spirit of Christ preached to the souls in prison isn’t referring to Hell. It would either be Taratarus or Sheol, not the lake of fire.

On Witchcraft

Perkins is unafraid to address hot topic issues. He argues, quite rightly, that Christ’s ascension protects believers from curses. He notes that “no witchcraft nor sorcery (which often are done with cursing) shall be able to hurt us” (259). Those not covered by the ascended Christ have no such protection. It is important to keep in mind that Perkins was once involved in the occult before he received better teaching.

The Church

The efficient cause of the church is God’s predestination. The formal cause is the mystical union (324ff). Of predestination, we note that the will of God appoints the estates of the creatures. (The following section is an exegesis of Romans 9). When God decrees something, there is no succession of moments. Nonetheless, we make logical distinctions. First, God purposes “what he will do and the end of all things.” The second is where he decrees the execution of the former (331).

God’s Will and Subordinate Means

Does God will evil? This seems to be the implication of predestination, yet it isn’t. Perkins notes three actions in God’s willing of a thing. God can absolutely will a thing as something he delights in. God can absolutely nill a thing. “There is also a third action which comes as a mean between the two former, which is remissly or in part to nill and will a thing” (356-357). God does not approve a thing, yet he wills the permission of it.

God’s willing of causes can be set in a hierarchical structure. A highest cause of a thing overrules all. As Perkins’s notes, this is God’s will (358). This is the cause of all things that have being. From this are secondary and tertiary causes. This allows Perkins to rebut something like Molinism. A thing cannot have hypothetical options before it even has being.

Side notes:

Perkins condemns the prayer lives of those involved in usury (436).

Perkins believes reading forms of prayer are lawful (468).

Following his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer is a poem in rhyming couplets. It’s surprisingly good. Not as good as Alexander Pope, to be sure, but still quite good overall.


While the work is structured around the Apostles’ Creed and so lends itself to a natural organization, Perkins’ Ramism, of which I am generally a fan, sometimes gets the better of him. His method is to set forth the doctrine, the uses, the benefits, and probably some other stuff. None of that is wrong, but by the time we get to the fourth or fifth “use,” itself probably a subdivision of a previous use, one sometimes forgets which article of the creed he is on.

While Perkins gives the classic formula of “the practical syllogism,” his take on assurance leaves much to be desired. We are told not to pry into heaven, which is true. Rather, he tells us “by signs and testimonies in ourselves to gather what was the eternal counsel of God concerning our salvation” (337). The syllogism itself isn’t wrong. I know Beza and Perkins take a lot of heat for it, but I like how Perkins frames it: “an application of the promises of the gospel in the form of a practical syllogism.” I’m just concerned that he leaves out one of the very places where Christ has promised to meet us: The Lord’s Supper. In his shorter catechism he rightly notes that the Supper strengthens us in our doubts (506). Very true. He just missed a good opportunity to tie it in here.

Christ on Trial (Klaas Schilder)

Schilder, Klaas. Christ on Trial. Trans. Henry Zylstra. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint 1950.

It’s hard to describe what this book is.  These are *not* Schilder’s sermons.  They are meditations. And while they aren’t strictly exegesis, they remained rooted in the text and the life of Israel, which also means they aren’t allegorical gush, either. While this isn’t the best introduction to Schilder, some of Schilder’s key themes (e.g., Covenant, munus triplex, a titanic war between angels and devils) are here.

“Jesus represents a mysterious priestly essence which, according to the Spirit, incorporates into the true priesthood, and ministers the grace of a priest to all those who know of it by reason of the fact that they are included in the Messiah through faith” (Schilder 23).

When Christ is on trial, he places “the issue of his Office before the spiritual tribunal, for the institution of any office in Israel is messianic in its purpose” (38).

The Covenant God Breaks the Deterministic Circle of Life “Under the Sun.”

We need a personal, covenant God to rescue us from the type of picture that the author of Ecclesiastes says about “life under the sun.”  In other words, redemption must come from beyond nature.  “If God does not become the covenant God, if God does not become Father, if the Almighty does not say ‘I am Jaweh,” if the voice of general revelation is not drowned out by the thundering approach of special revelation, then the rashness of the weary-circuit rider of time will ever again deal the blow against God’s own Son” (64).

Schilder describes the end of Christ’s life as  “maschil,” a riddle of intentional concealment.  A maschil is a testing, “proving designed to give him an opportunity to say what he wants” (81).

Schilder has the best comments on predestination ever put to paper: “God never gives a human being a prophecy about his future perdition.  Predestination is God’s warfare against fatalism, and the preaching of it is that also.  For he has also predestined the fact of responsibility.  No one is ever told that his perdition is absolutely certain, and that he lies under the irrevocable judgment of a hardening of heart.  Such an announcement , certainly, would dull the predestined awareness of responsibility.  In fact, it would break down predestination” (105).

Later on he notes that “election means calling, privilege implies task, to may is to must” (379).

“Even less is this God a ‘being’  who lives only in the hearts of men.  No, this God of Daniel is united with the world and with the sea of men in an abiding covenant” (143).

On Common Grace

“Hereafter every man is duty bound to conform himself not to common but to special revelation.  Hereafter any prophecy derived from common grace unattended by a sincere desire for special grace is but a rejection of Christ into the vicious circle of this hopeless life” (152-153). Common grace can never be abstracted from Christ’s judicial office (533).

While there isn’t an apparent structure to this book, it is there.  Christ ascends the “mountain” and in his recapitulates the three offices (314ff). 

Covenant hearing: “We human beings must grow in attention, must develop in the capacity for and the act of hearing.  The river bed along which the stream of revelation is slowly driven must be worn deeper and deeper in our inner life” (200).

Schilder elsewhere hints at an eschatology, though he never develops it.  He sees history as an “age-old conflict between the world empire and the people of revelation” (224). He identifies Rome with the horn of the beasts of Daniel. He specifically says Antichrist will spring from this horn (321).

Like many Dutch Reformed in the early 20th century, Schilder is very attuned to the titanic war of spirits that is being played out.  He writes, “If we really had eyes to see that invisible world in all of its movement and life, it would have our undivided attention…He, especially, who lets the Holy Scriptures have their say in this matter will direct the attention of his soul to these spiritual forces in the air” (244, 245).

Commenting on the confrontation between Christ and Herod, Israel and Esau, he writes that “The Bible knows that there is such a thing as a spiritual communion which inheres in successive generations” (373).  He is coming very close to saying something like “bloodlines” and “generational curses.”

On Allegory: since modern day allegory is purely subjective, it is a profanation to God’s word (266).

Speaking of the shedding of blood and the crucifixion, Schilder makes a few modern-day applications.  “The church has become lax in its dogmatic thinking” by allowing groups of “mystical poets and artists–first by permission, later by request” to control the aesthetics.  Indeed, he laments a “so-called spiritual eroticism…which prefers to accentuate the blood of Jesus rather than His soul, His soul rather than the hidden powers which inhere in him as the Christ” (511).

Of course, Schilder holds to the blood of Christ, but not as a merely artistic fetish.  From here he makes a fascinating point which should be obvious but I’ve never heard anyone say it: His blood had to be shed (so far, so good). The obvious conclusion: for the soul (or life) is in the blood (513). 

He then adds that the circulation of blood won’t be part of man’s perfected state. He connects the circulation of blood with the urge to eat and procreate.  The circulation of blood remains within the vicious circle of “life under the sun.”

Notes on Aquinas’s de Deo Uno


These are taken from Prima Pars, so for ease of quotation I will just reference the question number, article, etc. This deals with De Deo Uno.

  1. The first being of necessity must be in act and in no way in potency (3.1).  If God had potency in him, then he would need an Act-or behind him.
  2. God is not only his own essence, but his own being (Esse).  Esse is the actuality of form (3.4).
  3. God is simple because every composite is posterior to its component parts (3.7).
  4. God is good through his own essence, not by participation (6.3).
  5. God is in all things as an agent present to that upon which it works (8.1).
  6. God is immutable because he is pure act (9.1).  Further, God is infinite, so he cannot obtain anything by movement.
  7. If proportion is understood as the effect to its cause, potency to act, then “in this way the created intellect can be proportioned to know God” (12.1).
  8. Since God is in the highest degree of immortality, it follows that he occupies the highest place in knowledge (14.1). When we name God, we attribute the perfection but deny the mode of imperfection..
  9. God understands himself through himself (14.2).
  10. The act of God’s intellect is his substance, for if it weren’t, then something other than God would be the perfection of God (14.4).
  11. Thomas distinguishes various necessities in God (19.3). God [absolutely] necessarily wills his own goodness, but he [contingently] wills creation ad extra. A necessary cause sometimes has a non-necessary effect.
  12. There is an order of causation in the divine will (19.7).  The divine will itself is unchangeable; however, there are mediate causes under that will that are not included in the first cause.
  13. Providence doesn’t always impose a necessity on things (22.4). Providence orders things towards an end. Some things happen by contingent and proximate causes.
  14. Thomas places predestination under providence (23.1). Men are predestined as a type in God’s mind that moves them to an end.

Opening Notes on Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice


Muller, Richard A. Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

This book is more than a continuation of the Muller/Helm debate on Jonathan Edwards’ view of free choice.  It clarifies what was actually debated and explores recent attempts in Reformed historiography that appropriates Duns Scotus’s view of synchronic contingency. In doing so, it explores many issues in metaphysics which older Reformed writers considered vital but sadly have disappeared from today’s scene.

In fact, according to the index Jonathan Edwards doesn’t play a role.  The conversation goes something like this:  scholars like Antonie Vos argue the Reformed used Scotist synchronicity (we’ll unpack these terms later), which allowed them to avoid divine determinism as perhaps found in Thomas Aquinas.  Helm, by contrast, counters no, they were in fact determinists and Scotist synchronicity doesn’t actually solve anything.

Muller takes a more middle position.  The Reformed did in fact use Scotist concepts but only insofar as it allowed them to affirm God’s decree and rational human choice (Muller 34).

Some Terminology

Synchronic contingency: “the contingent is something present that presently could be otherwise given the unactualized but nonetheless remaining alternative possibility or potency” (37). Let’s pretend that Socrates is sitting. He can either sit or run, sit at one time and run at another.  He can’t do both. However, his sitting is only an historic necessity, not an absolute one.

Possibility: having the potential or capacity for existence or being true. Something could be otherwise.

Power of simultaneity: he can’t do both at the same time.

Simultaneity of potency: the possibility of running exists simultaneously with the actuality of sitting.

Composite sense: Socrates cannot be sitting and running.

Divided sense: Socrates can be sitting and running, albeit not simultaneously.

For Scotists such as Vos, the divine will intervenes between a divine necessary knowledge and a divine free knowledge of all actuality (51). This means that the divine knowing “yields a sense of the continuing presence of possibles.” This corresponds to the potentia absoluta even while their contraries are known in the potentia ordinata.

In other words, God’s willing p does not exclude the synchronic possibility of the opposite state of affairs.

A. A. Hodge: Outlines of Theology

While this book can never approach the grandeur of his elder, neither will it have the literary quality of Shedd, it probably surpasses them both in its usefulness to the teacher. Unlike Shedd, Hodge doesn’t get distracted by side projects.  However, not all of Hodge is equally strong.  

The book follows questions 1-39 of the Shorter Catechism, though not overtly.   Hodge is strong in every single area that today’s Young, Restless, and Reformed are weak.  In other words, Hodge is strong in a lot of areas.

Arguments for God

Contra Hume, and anticipating Plantinga and others, Hodge notes that “order and adaptation can only spring from an intelligent cause” (37).

Pantheism denies the moral personality of God, man, or both (51).

On The Bible

Contra Rome: When Paul uses tradition, he signifies “all his instructions, oral and written, communicated to those very people themselves, not handed down” (83).

“Romanists appeal to the Scriptures to prove that the Scriptures cannot be understood, and address arguments to private judgment of men to prove that private judgment is incompetent” (91).

Attributes of God

When we say God is infinite, we do not mean that he cannot be an object of knowledge, as though knowing him would place a limit.  Rather, infinity means there are no limitations which involve any imperfections whatsoever (133).

The divine attributes are the divine perfections (135).

There can only be one infinite being.   “If there were two infinite beings, each would necessarily include the other, and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical” (139).

Per God as spirit: “Spirit is that substance whose properties manifest themselves to us directly in self-consciousness” (140).

Knowledge of God: the mode of divine knowledge: God perfectly, individually, distinctly, and immutably knows all things.  He knows them through himself, through his own essence” (145).  God’s necessary knowledge is the act of the divine intellect, without any concurrent act of the divine will.  His free knowledge is his knowledge being determined by a concurrent act of his will.

Relation to moral action.  God’s knowledge of future contingents makes the events certain, but it does not rule out moral certainty of creatures (147).

Will of God: we reject the liberty of indifference applied to God.  The decretive will of God is God efficaciously purposing the futurition of events.

The Trinity

“Substantia, as now used, is equivalent to essence, independent being” (164). True enough, but substance implies accidents, whereas essence does not.  A subsistence is a mode of substance

He is skeptical of the Johannine Comma (177).

He sees “sons of God” in Gen 6 as “angels” (178).

Eternal Generation: eternal personal act of the Father.  He generates the person of the Son by communicating to him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead (182).  It is a communication within the Godhead.

The Decrees of God

Immanent and intrinsic decrees are the generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit

God’s decree doesn’t mechanically cause every event.  The decree provides in “every case that the event shall be effected by causses acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question” (203).

When God decreed everything, he did so as a complete system, having its own internal causes and effects.  As a rational agent, I also act in relation to a complete system. God’s decree does not separate effects from causes and means. God’s decree makes the event certain in the future, yet “not as isolated from other events….but as dependent upon means and agents freely using those means” (212).


Nothing in Scripture says angels are completely destitute of all materiality; indeed, they took bodily form, ate food, and lodged in houses (252, referencing Gen. 18:8 and 19:3).


Contra Edwards: JE says that what we call “the course of nature is nothing separate from the agency of God” (Original Sin, IV, ch. 3).  This makes God the only real agent in the universe, and so logically involves pantheism.

When God chose his great end, he also chose innumerable subordinate ends; these are fixed; and he has appointed all actions and events in their several relations as means to those ends” (262).

“All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, effects, and conditions, that a general Providence that is not the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or a chain which has no links” (266).

Moral Constitution of the Faculties of the Soul

The faculties of the soul are the capacity of the one agent (280).  We choose not to speak of the liberty of the will, but the liberty of the man willing.

Df. will = the faculty of volition, together with all spontaneous states of the soul (282).  It acts in accordance with intrinsic moral tendencies in the soul.

A man is morally responsible if he is in possession of his reason, and self-decided in his will (285).

Df. virtue = a peculiar quality of certain states of the will.  Its essence is that it obliges the will (286).

Turretin: the essential nature of liberty does not consist in indifference.

Man may act against motives, but never without motives (290).

God from eternity foreknows all the free actions of men as certain, and he has foreordained them to be certain (291).

Creation of Man

Pelagians believe that man was created with no positive moral character (302).

Original Sin

We deny that the corruption is physical (excluding possible effects).  Rather, it is purely moral and “biases the understanding” (325). It consists in a morally corrupt habit.  It leads to a schism in the soul (329).

“A universal effect must have a universal cause” (330).


The permanent affections in the soul govern the volitions, but the volitions cannot alter the affections (339).

Contra Traducianism

I don’t think Shedd had published his Dogmatic Theology yet, for had he then Hodge’s charges wouldn’t hold. Hodge thinks traducianists hold to a “pure realism, which is a “single generic spiritual substance which corrupted itself by its own voluntary apostasizing act in Adam.  The souls of individual men are not separate substances, but manifestations” of this single substance” (351-352). Hodge is here quoting his father (II: 251ff).  Both are mistaken on what realism entails. Human nature is a substance, not the property or quality of a substance (see Shedd, 469).  It is individualized in a concrete person.

The problem here is that Hodge is operating under a faulty notion of realism.  First, our human nature isn’t a manifestation of “humanity.” It is in fact a real human nature.  He wants to argue that since the traducianists think human nature can be divided or partialed out, then it is false.  Shedd responds that in the beginning, human nature became four instead of two (Shedd 490, modern reprint). Is that a partialing of human nature?  It seems to be, yet it also seems correct.  There is a constant “diminution of the primitive nonindividualized human nature when once its division and individualization begins by conception.”

Hodge later says that this is 1) Indefinite, 2) fails to explain moral responsibility, 3) assumes laws of natural development limit God’s agency, and 4) doesn’t explain why only the first sin is the one for which we are punished (364).

In response
1*) ?????
2) Again, it isn’t clear.  We are also guilty for our own individual sins.  Yet, we are also guilty for concupiscence, which came from Adam.
3) Again, I am not sure why he thinks that.
4) On everyone’s account, we are only guilty for Adam’s first sin.  

Guilt and punishment.  Guilt is just liability to punishment

The Person of Christ

Mediatorial actions pertain to both natures (381).

Do we worship the human nature?  We distinguish between the ground and object of worship.  The ground of worship is the divine Person, but we do worship the human nature alongside the divine (383). Strictly speaking, we don’t worship, either.  Worship terminates on the person.

Nature of the Atonement

Following his father, AA Hodge gives a lucid account on the nature of guilt and punishment.  A penal satisfaction concerns crime and person.  A pecuniary concerns debt and things.  The former terminates on the person of the criminal; the latter on the thing due (401).

Hodge also denies that “Christ suffered Hell.”  This charge comes up on the internet against Protestants.  Hodge specifically states  that “He did not suffer the same sufferings either in kind, degree, or duration, which would have been inflicted on them, but he did suffer precisely that suffering which divine justice demanded of his person standing in their stead.  His sufferings were those of a divine person with a human nature” (406).

Sin as macula is not laid on Christ.  Sin as reatus is (408).

Effectual Calling

Regeneration: it is a conversio habitualis seu passiva, “the change of character in effecting which the soul is the object, not the subject” (449). Conversion is the opposite.


Standard stuff here, but Hodge does a good job contrasting the Protestant and Romish views. 

Rome: we have a first justification for Christ’s sake. We then (maybe?) have a second one through and in proportion to his merit.

We regard justification as a judicial act, they an infusion of grace.  We say the merits of Christ are the ground of justification, they the merits are made ours by sanctification.  We say faith is the instrument.  They the beginning and root.

Paul Helm: Eternal God

Image result for paul helm eternal god

Helm, Paul.  Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time.  New York: Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2010.

Paul Helm is painstakingly thorough in examining the challenges to God’s being outside of time.  Almost too thorough. In any case, this book will likely be remembered as one of the classics in analytic theology.

Flow of the book: If God is outside of time, then a number of challenges and (perceived) difficulties arise.  The traditional view is the Boethian view: all of past, present, and future is present to God. This view is correct in maintaining that God is outside of time. It is open, however, to a number of devastating defeaters.  Helm’s goal is to reformulate the Boethian view in light of these defeaters.

The most challenging section of the book deals with indexicals: I am here at this place at this hour. The problem is that many of these indexicals can’t apply to God’s being timeless.  God can affirm the following proposition?

(1) I know that it is raining today.

The critic says he can’t because this would place God in a time-bound relation.  It’s not clear, though, why God can’t timelessly affirm this proposition. The only force indexicals would have is that God can’t affirm the following proposition:

(2) I know what it is to be married.

This deals more with omniscience than eternality.  In any case, it doesn’t seem like anything is lost.

Can God know future events?  Presumably, he can. This has been a given in almost every form of theistic belief.  Some philosophers like Swinburne say God can’t know the future if he has also given libertarian freedom to his creatures.  The future actions haven’t yet happened; therefore, God can’t know them. Helm offers something along the lines of a rebuttal:

(3) There is no logical connection between the view that the future does not already exist and the view that the future is indeterminate (121).

I think there is an easier rebuttal, though.  Christianity and Judaism (and I presume Islam) believe that some humans can prophesy (with varying degrees of accuracy) about the future.  If they can know the future actions of free creatures, then it stands to reason that God could, too.

Possibilities of Fatalism

Not all fatalisms are the same.  One can mean:

(4) Everything that happens was bound to happen.

It can mean something weaker:

(5) Everything that happens does so because of a logical necessity.

Timelessness and Human Responsibility

(6) God timelessly decreed that B occur at t₂ and this cannot be isolated from his timeless decree of A at t

(7) God timelessly decrees a complete causal matrix of events and actions (170).

Whenever we speak of God’s being and actions, we must realize that God’s being is logically prior to what he does.

Kripkean Terms

Rigid designator: a proper name which has x property in every possible world.

Accidental designator: property in some world.

Using these terms Helm suggests that “God” expresses the individual essence of God (208). A general essence isn’t a particular essence. God has a set of properties unique to himself. These are “God-making” properties.  This is important because “Being the creator of the world’ is not a part of his nature whereas ‘being infinitely good is’” (209).

Eternal Generation of the Son:  “There is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son” (285).

Corollary: If God is in time, then it does make sense to speak of a time when the Son was not.  When did the Father beget the Son? Even asking that question illustrates the problem. You can’t say in eternity past, for that is the thing the temporalist denies.

Violence, Hospitality, Cross: Notes, 2


Chapter 2: Limiting Hospitality

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56).  Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Chapter 3: Preferential Hospitality

In this chapter Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80).  Israel isn’t elected for her own sake.

While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history.  Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Today, we can make his argument stronger by linking the Canaanites with the demonic practices of the fallen beney elohim, per Michael Heiser.

Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

The chapter ends with some good comments on authorial intent, justice, etc.

Chapter 4: Atonement, Metaphors, and Models

This chapter links the two sections of the book.  We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms.  That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical.  Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal.  Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112).  He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Chapter 5: Modeling Hospitality, Atonement as Moral Influence

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading.  Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Chapter 6: Atonement as Mimetic Violence

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought.  Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism.  While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth.  If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence.  But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early?  Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

Chapter 7: Hospitality, Punishment, and the Atonement

Anselmian tradition: economy of exchange

Did Constantine Ruin Everything?

According to some feminist theologians, Constantine marked the shift from a more Christus Victor model to the satisfaction/substitution model.  Historically speaking, this is silly. The truth behind it, though, is that with Constantine and Christendom enshrined, there really wasn’t a point to the Christus Victor model anymore.

Boersma explores substitutionary and even penal language in the fathers.  It’s there, but I would caution against reading too much into it (and Boersma doesn’t).  There is no one atonement model and to say that the fathers taught penal substitution is misleading.  

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).