De Moor IV:22: Calvin and the Scholastic Definition of Absolute Power

Now, with all these Limitations of the divine Power passed over, or with certain of these omitted, which our AUTHOR set forth in this §, our AUTHOR says that CALVIN had good reason to detest the Absolute Power of God; that is, not in the sense in which our AUTHOR in § 21 distinguished the Absolute Power of God from the Actual, as God by His Absolute Power antecedently to every Decree is able to do a great many things that He is not able to fulfill by His Actual Power on account of a contrary Decree coming between: while, nevertheless, by Absolute Power He is not able to do those things that are repugnant to His Perfections, or remove the Finitude, or imply a Contradiction; seeing that both His other Attributes are incompatible, and in the last case especially His Wisdom also. But Calvin detested the Absolute Power of God as the Scholastics taught it, among whom Armandus de Bellovisu,[1] De Declaratione, tractate II, chapter IX, wrote: “The absolute Power of God is said to be His ability, or His power absolutely considered, with respect to any divine attribute. But the ordained Power of God is said to be God’s power regulated by some attribute, either righteousness, or wisdom, or mercy and of that sort.” Therefore, according to this Absolute Power God is able to do a thing neither justly, nor wisely, nor mercifully: in which manner His infinite and altogether simple Essence is miserably torn. This receives CALVIN’S detestation in Institutes, book III, chapter XXIII, section 2: “We give no countenance to this fiction of Absolute Power; which, as it is profane, so with good reason it ought to be detested by us.” Likewise in his Responsione ad Calumnias Nebulonis cujusdam, etc., opera, tome 7, page 735, “Although to me the Will of God is the highest cause, yet I teach everywhere that, when in His counsels and works the cause does not appear, it is nevertheless hidden in Him, inasmuch as He decrees nothing unless justly and wisely. And so, what the Scholastics trifle with concerning Absolute Power, I not only repudiate, but also detest, because they separate His righteousness from His government.” And you may also learn that thus Calvin rightly indeed made this pronouncement out of VRIESIUS’ Disquisitione de Contradictoriis Deo Possibilibus, § 21; and CLUTO’S Ideam Theologiæ, disputation IV, § 18-21. And so, contrary to the truth, on account of these Limitations the Lutherans content that we do not sincerely believe in the Omnipotence of God; see ECKHARDUS’ Fasciculum Controversiarum cum Calvino, chapter II, question VII, pages 50-54. On this § consult GIROLAMA ZANCHI’S[2] book III de Natura Dei, chapter I, questions 6-9, 11-13, opera, tome 2, columns 174-184, 187-190.

[1] Armandus de Bellovisu (died 1334) was a French Dominican Theologian.


[2] Girolamo Zanchi (1516-1590) was an Italian Reformed theologian. At the age of fifteen, he entered the monastery of the Augustinian Order of Regular Canons. He came under the personal influence of Peter Martyr Vermigli; and the writings of the Reformers, especially Calvin, had a profound impact upon his thinking. Zanchi served as Professor of Old Testament at Strassburg (1553-1563), and Professor of Theology at Heidelberg (1568-1577).

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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