The purpose of this study is to explore John Calvin’s two-fold notion of faith in the 1559 edition of the Institutes and its central implications for pastoral theology in the emerging Reformed tradition, in order to reclaim a broader and contextualized understanding of pastoral care and its relation with faith formation. To that end, this article will focus on the ways the emerging mid- sixteenth century Reformed church in Geneva applied the Calvinian notion of faith to pastoral theology. Some applications of such an understanding for the church today are also explored, especially for the modern American-Dutch Reformed church.
Even in the Reformed tradition, there has been a tendency among some theologians and clergy to read Calvin narrowly. Such a tendency has impacted to some degree the theology and praxis of pastoral care, affecting thus the holistic vision of pastoral ministry in the Reformed church.
Part of the problem for interpreting Calvin as a spiritual leader is his reputation as one of the most gifted and intellectually rigorous theologians of the sixteenth century, Elsie A. McKee rightly states. I stand by that assessment. In fact, some modern scholarship, Richard A. Muller writes, has interpreted the knowledge of God in John Calvin’s notion of faith merely as an intellectual assent, neglecting the other aspect of Calvin’s understanding of faith which focuses on the assurance and will of the heart. In response to positions like these, Muller correctly argues that “Calvin does not lodge faith in the intellect and place only the capability of choice in the will. Faith, for Calvin, is a matter of intellect and will in conjunction with the highest part, not merely the instrumental part, of faith belonging to the will.” Therefore, despite his later reputation, Calvin presents his readers a balanced and integrated theological thought where he gave pastoral theology a great importance during the sixteenth-century Reformation.
Because I think a proper understanding of the notion of faith produces a better appreciation of pastoral care in an ecclesiastical context, it is important to explore the Calvinian notion of faith in the 1559 Institutes and its central implications for pastoral theology in the Reformed tradition in order to reclaim a broader understanding of pastoral care and its relation with faith formation. Such a purpose is based on the belief that for Calvin and the early Reformers (for instance, Theodore Beza and other reformed ministers), faith seemed not to be merely an intellectual-assentive knowledge (notitia/assensus), but also a fiduciary-experiential knowledge of God (fiducia).
In fact, the knowledge of God in Calvin’s understanding of faith relates both the intellectual assent of faith and the apprehension of the heart of such assent by which one is illuminated by the Holy Spirit regarding the way God relates, takes care, and sustains all His creation. And such intellectual assent of the knowledge of God in Calvin’s view of faith cannot be separated from the apprehension of the heart of such knowledge, since both elements are completely ingrained in the Calvinian thought. This integral knowledge of God and ourselves in Calvin’s discussion of faith is what Calvin refers when he talks about cognitio, and it is also what allows us to procure an ample vision of pastoral theology. Defining the ministry of pastoral care in terms of Calvin’s understanding of the functions of the visible church as mother, we could understand pastoral care as the communal and individual exercise of the calling and mission of the visible church as mother to make believers aware of the proper knowledge of God and of themselves as realized in the Scripture with the guide of the Holy Spirit in the process of bearing, nourishing, caring, and guiding such believers.
*This is a summary of the paper published as “John Calvin’s Two-Fold Notion of Faith and the Possibility of Faith Formation: The Emerging Genevan Church’s Understanding of Faith and Its Relation to Pastoral Care,” Fides Reformata 24, no.2 (2019): 109-137. If you’d like to read this paper in full, please click here. All rights reserved by the publisher. Used by permission.