John Calvin opens the 1559 edition of his classic book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, with a discussion of how we know anything about God. According to Calvin, a true and full knowledge of God is only available through Scripture. However, Calvin insists that a natural knowledge of God is possible, which prepares the way for the full knowledge of God, and eliminates any human excuse for being ignorant of God’s existence or nature. Note especially Calvin’s argument for an implanted sense of divinity within human beings:
“There is within the human mind, and that by natural instinct, a sense of divinity (divinitatis sensus). This we take to be beyond controversy. So that no-one might take refuge in the pretext of ignorance, God frequently renews and sometimes increases this awareness, so that all people, recognizing that there is a God and that he is their Creator, are condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to worship him and to give their lives to his service. If ignorance of God is to be looked for anywhere, surely one is most likely to find an example of it amongst the more backward peoples and those who are really remote from civilization (ab humanitatis cultu remotiores). Yet, in fact (as a pagan has said) there is no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they do not have a pervasive belief that there is a God…
There has been no region since the beginning of the world, no city, no home, that could exist without religion; this fact in itself points to a sense of divinity inscribed in the hearts of all people…
There are innumerable witnesses in heaven and on earth that declare the wonders of his wisdom. Not only those more arcane matters for the closer observation of which astronomy, medicine, and all of natural science (tota physica scientia) are intended, but also those which force themselves upon the sight of even the most unlearned and ignorant peoples, so that they cannot even open their eyes without being forced to see them.”
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.
1) Institutes, I.iii.1,2; in Joannis Calvini: Opera Selecta, ed. P. Barth and W. Niesel, vol. 3 (Munich: Kaiser Verlag, 1928), 37.16-46.11.
2) The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1995), pp. 57