Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gordon on Calvin



Among the deluge of Calviniana that appeared in his 500th anniversary year there are a number of biographical studies, of which this by Bruce Gordon (late of St. Andrews and now of Yale) is the most thorough and scholarly. It bears comparison with the work of the Reformation scholar Herman Selderhuis, John Calvin, a Pilgrim’s Life, (Leicester, IVP, 2009), if only because the two books have a similar structure. Each author has chosen to write in shortish sections within each chapter, though Gordon’s sections are longer. But both books give the impression of Calvin through his portrayal in short scenes, rather like videoclips. This style makes the books easy to pick up and put down, and gives their authors freedom to roam from topic to topic as he unfolds the life. Of the two, Selderhuis’s is lighter in tone, and may even make you laugh. Gordon sets out to be more serious, and he is certainly successful in that.

The present-day biographer of Calvin who aims to write for a general educated readership is faced with a dilemma. There is a good deal of drama to Calvin’s life. His career was adventurous, and so an account of it ought to make for a good read. His life even as a theologian, controversialist and bible commentator was lived at such a breakneck speed that by his early fifties he was worn out. (When he wrote about divine providence he advised the Christian to live prudently, to take note of the divinely-appointed connectedness of means and ends. But he resolutely failed to heed that advice himself, at least as regards his own health). But what explains the drama – his flight from France, and then from Geneva, the frequent political turmoil in that city, the quarrels, the swings of temper, his deliberate offensiveness to his opponents? Is there a connecting thread?

Yes there is, but now the biographers’ dilemma surfaces. For what made Calvin tick were ideas that now seem remote and unappealing to the modern sensibility, about divine grace and sin, about who has the right to excommunicate a person from church, or about what exactly goes on in the Lord’s Supper. How could these ideas motivate a life, and lead a sensitive soul, with ambitions to be a reclusive scholar and nothing more, to take centre stage and to run himself into the ground for their sake? For Calvin, certain ideas had consequences, deeply personal consequences. Here at least there is consistency in the man. If the idea of your God is not one that can flit in the brain, then discipleship of such a God cannot be a fitful thing. Knowing this God is full-time work.

Bruce Gordon does a pretty good job, it seems to me, in producing a narrative of Calvin’s life that is intelligible in terms of the impact of his ideas upon his own unique personality. That is, he nearly always provides the reader with sufficient theological and religious background to make what Calvin did and suffered intelligible, and sets his activities in the context of his own conversion, even though the circumstances of that momentous change still remain shadowy, and this fact certainly does not help any biographer. To present such a man in such a way is a considerable and praiseworthy achievement. This is not a theological biography, but it is pretty clearly the biography of a theologian, one of the great doctors of the Church. So Professor Gordon does not simple chronicle events; he tells us, for example, the significance of Calvin’s commentary on Romans, and goes into Calvin’s relations with the various Swiss city churches with great thoroughness. He analyses the reasons for the unevenness of Calvin’s international impact, and goes into the printing and publishing of those works of Calvin’s which were rapidly translated and exported, and on which his reputation came to rest.

A couple of things puzzled me a bit. One is Professor Gordon’s claim, which he makes twice, that Calvin’s early book, Psychopannychia, written in 1534 but finally published (after going the rounds in manuscript to various of his friends) in an altered form in 1542, a work against the Anabaptist doctrines of soul sleep and ‘mortalism’ was in fact aimed at Michael Servetus. (43, 216) The reason for Calvin giving these doctrines priority remains something of a puzzle, but it is hard to believe that he already had Servetus in his sights. Servetus did agree to meet up with Calvin in Paris in 1534, an appointment which Calvin kept but he did not, to Calvin’s annoyance. The author provides no evidence for his claim that Psychopannychia, was ‘partly directed to Servetus and his circle in Paris’, or even for the view that Servetus had such a circle. Bernard Cottret, whose biography of Calvin is a good resource for this kind of thing, does not offer a hint of such a connection.

One place where (understandably perhaps) the author’s concern to provide his reader with theological content, or a theological context, seems to fail him is over Calvin’s controversies with the Lutheran theologian Westphal over the Supper. The author recounts in considerable detail each blow and counter-blow and counter-counter blow of this seemingly interminable debate. But he never tells us what the theological issues were between Calvin and Westphal, or how it came about that Calvin had such an ecstatic view of the significance of the Supper, ecstasy caught by his words from the Institutes quoted at length on page 303. The debates about the Supper were tragic enough, but there were real issues at stake, substantive differences . The author’s reluctance to tell his readers what these are makes it hard for them to judge his opinion that Calvin’s debate with Westphal was a personal defeat for him (249), or even what this means and how it could be identified as such.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent general biography of the Reformer, sympathetic, engaging and informative.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Vanhoozer II - Anything of Substance?



In this post we focus on what Kevin Vanhoozer has to say on the metaphysics of God. As we have seen, Remythologizing Theology is a metaphysical enterprise, having to do with the nature of the Director of the theodrama which is the Christian Gospel. The author is sympathetic with, but also critical of, modern Trinitarian panentheism. He offers various pertinent criticisms of it, for example that it does not do justice to the Creator-creature relationship, or to divine freedom. He also criticises the idea that in creation God withdraws by a kind of kenosis in order to make space for human freedom and for the establishing of divine-human relations that are themselves perichoretic, and so, symmetrical. Further, he considers the idea that God is nothing but relationships, relationships all the way down, as he expresses it. He rightly makes the point that for there to be relationships there must be relata, subjects in relation.

Nonetheless one significant thing that he takes from modern trinitarianism is the idea that divine relationships are personal and not causal, and that they are (as far as human beings are concerned) dialogical, that is, what I shall call two-way personal. In a later post we shall come to see the significance of that. But more importantly for us at this point, Vanhoozer first has to give an account of God, distinct from his creation, an account of the metaphysics of ‘divine communicative agency’. If this is not a variant of the modern panentheism that he critiques, then what exactly is it? God is more than a set of events or relationships, but what more? Who is God?

God is tripersonal with a shared divine essence. But what kind of a person, given that God does what Scripture says that he does? Particularly, given what God does in dialogue. One phrase Vanhoozer chooses to express his answer to the questions, who is God, and what is he like? is: ‘God is no other than he has revealed himself to be’. This is a variant of Barth’s ‘God’s being is in his act’ (220): alternatively, ‘God’s being is in his free, wise and loving communicative agency’.

From the fact that God dialogues with human beings we may infer at the very least that he has the capacity to communicate. From the Incarnation of the Word we may further conclude that God has the capacity to communicate himself. God’s presence is thus in the first instance personal, agential, and communicative rather than merely spatial, substantive or metaphysical. (205-6)

As Vanhoozer says, on this proposal any divine metaphysics or ontology must be ‘after the fact’.(217) That is, we can only discover God's character from what he says and does.

‘God in act’, ‘God’s being is in his free wise and loving communicative agency’. ‘God is no other than he has revealed himself to be’. At this point the sea fret begins to come ashore. We need carefully to reflect on these forms of expression. These words could be taken various ways. For example, they could mean that in what he communicates, God is genuine. He is not faking anything. There is no fa├žade. His communications have the backing of God himself, and in that sense are expressive of himself; they are not insincere, or hypocritical. This would be a moral thesis, about God’s character.He is as good as his word. Or they could mean that we know of God only via what he communicates, by its character and scale. This would be an epistemological thesis. The author occasionally flirts with this idea, saying that we know of God’s identity by what we identify regarding what he has done. Or they could mean that though God is distinct from his creation he exhaustively reveals himself in it. That is, when we establish what God had done, there is nothing over, nothing that God might have done but hasn't, for instance. But none of these suggestions would take us far enough to establish a metaphysical thesis about the being of God, which is what Vanhoozer is after. For these expressions to get us on the metaphysical path the 'is' in each case has to be the 'is' of identity. 'God is [nothing other than, he is identical with] his free, wise and loving communicative agency’. But then, so it seems, panentheism beckons, despite Vanhoozer's intention to wriggle free.

At this stage, we need to remember that it is not possible to make genuine metaphysical proposals simply by introducing novel phrases or neologisms. Such proposals require clarity, and they lay upon the proposer not only the obligation to be clear on what his proposal means, but also over what it does not mean. In rejecting classical theism because it is, in Vanhoozer’s judgement, impersonal, mechanical, and monologic, and in rejecting panentheism because (for example) it collapses what God does and what God is, what metaphysical option is this phrase ‘God is in his…..’ intending to identify? Something between classical theism and panentheism, presumably. But what?

One possibility is as follows. God is essentially Trinitarian, in a perichoretic relationship in which love is necessarily communicated among the persons. So God is essentially communicative. So he could not fail to communicate himself ad extra. That would be a metaphysical thesis of some interest. However, Thomas, though a ‘classical theist’ says something like this. He says that God must create (and so 'communicate') even though the character of what he creates is at his discretion. The Angelic Doctor puts it like this-

God, in willing his own goodness, wills things other than himself to be in so far as they participate in his goodness. But, since the divine goodness is infinite, it can be participated in infinite ways, and in ways other than it is participated in by the creatures that now exist. If, then, as a result of willing his own goodness, God necessarily willed the things that participate in it, it would follow that he would will the existence of an infinity of creatures participating in his goodness in an infinity of ways. This is patently false, because, if he willed them, they would be, since his will is the principle of being for things, as will be shown later on. Therefore, God does not necessarily will even the things that now exist. (Summa Contra Gentiles I.81.4)

Vanhoozer attempts to move a critical step further than this, however, by in effect arguing that since God‘s communicating is verbal, it is that of a speech agent, and his being is in his communicative agency, then whatever he creates must be a dialogue partner. As he puts it ‘the economic Trinity is a dramatic analogy (a being-in-temporal-act) of the light, life, and love that God is in himself (a being-in-eternal-act)’. (218, the author’s italics.)

Notice that at a critical point in the exposition unusual, newly-coined expressions are once again taking the place of clarity of expression and the presentation of argument. What is ‘a-being-in-eternal-act’, ‘a-being-in-temporal-act’? Goodness-knows-what-the-hyphens-are-meant-to-mean! As a rule, a fit of the hyphenics is a sure sign that something is adrift.

Besides the presence of this semantic mist of unknowing, there’s both a logical objection to such a proposal, and a theological objection, if (that is) these expressions are intended to be statements about what God is. The logical objection is: how can we conclude (contrary to what Thomas holds, for example) from what God in fact does, that his nature is such that he must do that? And the theological objection is: does the characterisation of God’s agency proposed by Vanhoozer, that his communicative agency must take the form of speech etc., not place unduly restrictive constraints upon God? Who are we to say what God could and could not have done? - Does Scripture warrant this restriction? Why cannot God communicate to us in ways other than speech? Although Vanhoozer's procedure is ‘after the fact’, is it not also somewhat prescriptive? (It is also seen to be extravagant, in that (Vanhoozer thinks) it requires the inanimate creation to be capable of being addressed by God and obeying him. And silence is also a form of speech. But we won’t go into that here.)

It seems that Vanhoozer reveals that he is beset by the same itch that afflicts the modern Trinitarians, to go beyond what either Scripture or logic warrant. Scripture tells us what God does and has done, but (by and large) it does not tell us what he could have done. It does not tell us that he must communicate though it does show us that he did in fact communicate. (In our next post we shall see that Scripture indicates that God communicates himself in other ways than in speech, ways that are not incidental to his purposes.) If God is ‘in’ what he says, and as a consequence he could not say other than he has said, then it is hard to resist the beckoning hand of panentheism. And far from such a concept of God being a recipe for free, interpersonal, non-causal, open-ended conversation between God and his intelligent creatures, it comes to look pretty deterministic, for God at least. He is fated to communicate, to unendingly chatter, to be a divine Mr Talkative.

So, does Vanhoozer's metaphysics of God have anything of substance? The somewhat unfortunate answer is, yes and no. Yes, because he clearly wishes to separate himself from the guild of modern panentheists, and to give due recognition to the Creator - creature distinction, for example. But the trouble is that in pursuing this goal, Vanhoozer has deprived himself of tools that would be useful, nay essential, in articulating the metaphysics of Christian theism. He badly needs to allow himself to use metaphysical modalities. What God must necessarily be and do, and what he may do. By restricting divine communication to what God has said and done via the one narrative that he has established - creation, redemption and consummation through Jesus Christ - he is carried inexorably by the rapids in the direction of panentheistic reductionism, despite his best efforts to swim upstream. He fails to note in this new book, what he failed to note in The Drama of Doctrine, that within the events of the one narrative, interspersed within it, and given more particularly in apostolic commentary on it, are dozens and dozens of general statements about who God is which do not entail God speaking. And dozens and dozens of statements about what God does which do not take the form of speech agency. So focussed is he on the one narrative and on the theodrama, and in the new book on the theology of the theodrama, that he fails to notice the significance of these data. We shall look at some of these in a later post.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is free – liberal, undeserved, and also (we must never forget) contingent. Not only does Vanhoozer need to recognise the necessities of God's nature, he also needs to see the contingencies of God's actions ad extra. It might not have been so; we might not have been so. God is free to act, but not free to act against his nature, and so on: such nuts and bolts of classical theism are left behind, and this indicates continuing unease with classical theism, and sympathy for modern panentheism.

In a later post we shall give attention to what I call ‘one liners’, statements in Scripture about what God is, necessarily is, and necessarily isn’t, without which Christian theology would be impoverished. And vital instances of God's non verbal communications. To pass over these data is, I believe, not the way to achieve an advance in our understanding of Christian theism, but to slip backwards. Aa a beginning, in the next post we shall consider what Vanhoozer's metaphysical net of divine speech agency fails to catch.

Vermigli on Aristotle





Peter Martyr Vermigli, exiled from Italy, with the Inquisition breathing down his neck, lectured in Strasbourg 1542-1548, when he went to England with Bucer and others. Calvin had been in Strasbourg 1538-41 as an exile, as it turned out. So as far as I can see they did not meet there, narrowly missing each other. Following the death of Edward VI Vermigli lectured on Aristotle on his return to Strasbourg from England, 1553 -1555/6, alternating with fellow Italian and Aristotelian Jerome Zanchius, who lectured on Aristotle’s Physics. He then went to Zurich as Pellican’s successor, and died in 1562. Calvin had a very high opinion of him, a ‘highly respected brother’ (1554), ‘most accomplished sir, and distinguished servant of Christ’ (1554). He was not disposed to agree with the followers of Osiander that Vermigli was ‘more devoted to profane philosophy than to heavenly wisdom’. (Letters 3.60)

Vermigli’s extensive lectures, recently translated for the first time into English, run to over 400 pages. Apparently he gave them while at the same time commenting on the book of Judges. Though he provides a summary of all Ten Books of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the commentary itself runs only as far as Book 3 chapter 2. (xvii), presumably first interrupted by and then suspended permanently by his move to Zurich in 1556, where Conrad Gesner was already teaching philosophy. After Vermigli’s death in 1562 the lectures edited by Santerenziano, were published by his Zurich colleagues. They have now been translated into English for the first time and edited by Emidio Campi and Joseph C. McLelland, forming Vol.9 of the Peter Martyr Library. (Trueman State University Press, Kirksville, Miss, 2006).

This short paper has arisen from trying to familiarise myself with what for me was, initially, a surprising fact, and to try to understand why it should be less surprising. We tend – or I tend - to think of the Reformation during the second half of the 16th century as chiefly if not exclusively concerned, with the recovery of the authority of Scripture, the re-pristination of Christian theology, and with meeting the need for polemical and expository works arising therefrom, including of course, and alas, a good deal of internecine debate.

So it is of some interest (to me at least) to find a Reformer of the generation of John Calvin (Vermigli was ten years older than Calvin, and died shortly before him), lecturing in the 1550’s so extensively on Aristotle’s corpus. It is not surprising that a Reformed theologian who was Aristotelian by training, like Vermigli and Zanchius were, should retain a fondness for the Stagirite – what could be more natural? – just as Calvin retained a fondness for the Stoics, say, but that they should devote precious time to expounding his writings at such length seemed odd. But I learn from the Introduction to this book that five sets of similar lectures on Aristotle’s ethics had already been published before Vermigli lectured, those by Melanchthon (twice), Werdmuller, Scheegkius, and Hyperius, though he does not refer to any of them. So perhaps I should not have been surprised. Such as Richard Muller have pointed out how, by the turn of the century 16th century, the Reformed churches were becoming institutionalised, and education was having to be provided to a rising generation of Reformed professional men, including of course ministers. (Geneva?) It is natural, as part of this, to find a curriculum being developed within seminaries, with attention being given to the teaching of philosophy. But it is somewhat surprising, or was to me, to find such extensive attention being paid to Aristotle 50 years earlier. Maybe the attention was nothing like as extensive as that which subsequently followed, or perhaps the process of institutionalisation began earlier than I imagined; certainly it was earlier in Strasbourg and Zurich than in Geneva.

Whatever the truth, I am still struck by a sharp contrast between the rather careful if not exactly reverential attitude towards Aristotle’s ethics of Vermigli as compared with Calvin’s attitude to the moral philosophy of the Greeks.

Calvin's most basic criticism of pagan philosophers and those Christians unduly influenced by them, such as later mediaevals, is that in their analysis of free will and virtue and vice 'they were seeking in a ruin for a building'.

Hence the great obscurity faced by the philosophers, for they were seeking in a ruin for a building, and in scattered fragments for a well-knit structure. They held this principle, that man would not be a rational animal unless he possessed free choice of good and evil; also it entered their minds that the distinction between virtues and vices would be obliterated if man did not order his life by his own planning. Well reasoned so far - if there had been no change in man. But since this was hidden from them, it is no wonder they mix up heaven and earth.

One consequence of this is that (in Calvin's judgment) they have deficient views of human fallenness; not surprisingly, for they have no concept of a fall. In Inst. II.II.2 Calvin repeatedly inveighs against 'the philosophers' (they are referred to five or six times in two short sections and their view of the 'bondage of the senses' (servitutem sensus).

The attitude of Vermigli to moral philosophers, or at least to one moral philosopher, is much less sharp, as we shall see.This is not to say that the two outlooks were antithetical, and it may be that they have different views of philosophical ethics, Calvin seeing in such work a potential challenge to the gospel, Vermigli seeing it more as an adjunct. I shall spend some time attempting to understand Vermigli’s attitude to the relation between Aristotle and Scripture, then (in the second post) look at two topics, virtue and habit, and voluntary action. I choose these partly because Calvin also has general philosophical remarks on them, though of course much briefer than Vermigli’s, but it might still be worthwhile standing the two Reformers side by side.

Vermigli’s practice in the Commentary is to give his chief attention to an intensive discussion of Aristotle’s text, occasionally with some help from the Byzantine philosopher and theologian Eustratius of Nicaea (c.1050 – c.1120), noting textual variants and expounding Aristotle in a manner that, in the main, upholds and commends what he is doing. Towards the end of most lectures, Vermigli provides a Scriptural support or comment on what has just been discussed, using words such as, ‘It remains to look at how the above statements agree with holy scripture’. (47) What then follows may turn out to be an endorsement of Aristotle’s doctrine by Scripture, as in his provision from Scripture of different types of voluntary action and their value, (as we shall see later), more or less fully agreeing with Aristotle’s views. Or it could be a reminder to the reader that since Aristotle knew nothing of the grace of justification, nor of the life to come, Aristotle’s definition or characterisation of happiness is deficient in its attitude to death, or in the importance that he gives to material possessions as a necessary condition of happiness. (216) A similar attitude is found in remarks about the contemplative life, which Aristotle sees as the ultimate form of or ideal for human life, on which Vermigli comments (178) that contemplation can form only a part of the Christian life, with a sidelong glance, no doubt, at forms of monastic community and solitariness. On one occasion (Comm. on Bk.I VI), within the body of the lecture, there is a quite extensive discussion of Aristotle’s famous account of universals in the Nicomachean Ethics, including comments from Augustine, and the bearing of the topic on the doctrine of God. When he discusses Aristotle’s views on providence and fortune he is particularly scathing. (219-21) ‘Now was the time [for Aristotle] to affirm categorically that [happiness] should be expected from God no less than other gifts. In speaking this way, he attempts to avoid the shame of being impious, but does not merit the praise of having given an open and candid confession. If his views were good and right he should not have used these evasions.’ (220) ‘Aristotle speaks ambiguously about whether God is the author of happiness, but we affirm that point most constantly’. (230)

Sometimes the ‘Christian’ application seems so different from what Aristotle is taken to be saying as to make the much longer and more elaborate discussion of Aristotle seem beside the point. So at the opening of his discussion of Bk I Ch.4, where Aristotle discusses his procedure (in his determination of what happiness is) Vermigli is bold enough to say regarding the constituent parts of what happiness is that Holy Scripture ’is more preferable in this context than philosophy’, (78) for it proposes a two-fold end for us, one in this life and one in the life to come. But he goes on to endorse Aristotle’s own procedure in establishing the nature of true happiness, proceeding from effects to their causes, moving from just, brave, well-balanced, prudent actions to their corresponding virtues, which, together with the premise that virtues depend upon happiness as their goal, enables Aristotle to arrive at an understanding of what happiness is, rather than adopt the procedure of first defining happiness. (81, 83) This gives rise to a detailed epistemological discussion. (91-2) The supreme end in this life is that we be justified in Christ which differs from the end of eternal life only in degree. Nevertheless even this supports Aristotle’s view that there are great differences among people as to what happiness is. Yet in Scripture God seeks to establish faith in himself, his greatness, by what he does. He appeals to Romans 8.32 – He who gave up his only son will freely give us all things besides. ‘As Aristotle wishes to use demonstrations based on results and consequences, so from the effects just mentioned, we may conclude that we have acquired eternal happiness’. Yet while Aristotle restricts his ethical teaching to a certain kind of student, to those without corrupt minds, God invites anyone to study his teaching. (92)

One might draw various conclusions from this style of comparing and contrasting. Vermigli might take the view that lectures on Aristotle are not the time or the place to discuss Christian theology at length. If so then this is likely to emanate from a warm endorsement of Aristotle’s general outlook on the place of reason in ethics, on the nature of virtue and its relation to happiness, holding that this is so satisfactory that it only needs a little tweaking from the Christian theologian. For the most part it looks as if he thinks that a Christian outlook can be bolted onto the body of Aristotle’s thought.

Another possibility, which Vermigli seems occasionally to favour, is that Aristotle is dealing with family and especially civic virtue, and so we must bear in mind that the Nicomachean Ethics is simply the first part of a two volume work on political ethics. In which case this would be the wrong place to look for an account of ethics which places a premium on motive and intention in the manner of, say, Augustine, or of the New Testament. So for example Vermigli comments ‘Nor should we fail to point our that Aristotle spoke improperly when he said that action ‘will of necessity be acting and acting well’ since in truth it is not the action that acts, but that by which men act. But he could speak like this because the distinction is not important for the question under discussion’. (204) Aristotle is telling us how we ought to behave in the polis, what the good political life consists in, and so has things of direct value to the Christian in that role; otherwise we should be blaming Aristotle for do doing something that he was not trying to do in the first place.

Writing of the governing of the passions, he says

One thing now remains to be seen: how these passions may be governed and corrected. The first is the ‘civil’ way, through moral virtues. These bring the passions back to the mean and are sufficient, if we consider only the present life before God, however they are not so, nor does civil justice suffice before his judgment seat. There is need, then, for another standard, namely that of holy scripture, which is useless unless it is grasped by faith.(319)

As I say, there is some evidence for such a view: At one place (197) Vermigi asks, does not the scriptural statement that those whose sins have been forgiven and whose iniquities are forgiven are blessed (Ps.32.1-2) not refute the Aristotelian motif the end of man is happiness revealed in action? Vermigli replies

We are not speaking of that kind of happiness, but only of the happiness that follows primary happiness and lies in acting properly in this life and in contemplating and enjoying the sight of the supreme God in the world to come In other words. (197)

See also his reference to the virtues being political (253), having to do with the nature of civil morality. (319) So there is some ambiguity here. Sometimes Vermigli says that moral action has the same structure in Aristotle and in the gospel. (41) At other times he gently makes the point that Aristotle was a stranger to God’s revelation in Jesus. At still other times he forcefully criticises Aristotle for his paganism. Though I am not aware that Vermigli uses the terminology, he may at times be suggesting that the ethics of Aristotle has to do chiefly, if not exclusively, with the earthly kingdom, and not with the kingdom of God. Certainly at one place he endorses the thought given prominence by Calvin that whatever the source of some truth God the Holy Spirit is its ultimate author. As Vermigli puts the point, ‘we do not deny the sentiment that is hallowed by the centuries, which says that any truth set forth by any author proceeds from the Holy Spirit’.

One other thing occurred to me: the pattern of detailed exegesis and commentary of Aristotle, followed usually by a much briefer scriptural comment, is consistent with Vermigli having first prepared and given the lectures at some stage in his earlier years in Italy – either before he adopted evangelical views, or afterwards. If afterwards, if the lectures were prepared and delivered (1537-1542) then the evangelical views, the comments on scripture, may already have been present in them; if earlier, then they may have been added during this later period as he climbed up the rungs of the ladder of the Augustinian order, finally becoming abbot of St. Pietro and Aram in Naples (1537-40) and Prior of S. Frediano in Lucca (1541-42), during which time he established a reformed theological college. There is some additional evidence for this, perhaps: those theological discussions that occur within a lecture, as opposed to being at its end, are not specifically Protestant. We have already noted a discussion of Augustine and platonic ideas, and there is one on Pelagianism, (216) which one might expect from an Augustinian friar. There are exceptions, however. In the middle of one lecture he criticises ‘what the Papists do in reducing the pure religion of Christ, which is already complete in itself, to a histrionic Mass’. (205) So the form of the lectures is generally consistent with them being in existence before Vermigli fled Italy, and then being ‘Protestantized’ by having a tail added to most of them, giving Scriptural comments of a Protestant kind. Why prepare more lectures when one already has a perfectly good set? The pre-existence of the lectures may even have determined that in Strasbourg he lectured on the Nicomachean Ethics and not on some other part of the Aristotelian corpus.

A similar attitude is found in remarks about the contemplative life, which Aristotle sees as the ultimate form of or ideal for human life, on which Vermigli comments (178) that contemplation can form only a part of the Christian life, with a sidelong glance, no doubt, at forms of monastic community and solitariness. On one occasion (Comm. on Bk.I VI), within the body of the lecture, there is a quite extensive discussion of Aristotle’s famous account of universals in theNicomachean Ethics, including comments from Augustine, and the bearing of the topic on the doctrine of God. When he discusses Aristotle’s views on providence and fortune he is particularly scathing (219-21) ‘Now was the time [for Aristotle] to affirm categorically that [happiness] should be expected from God no less than other gifts. In speaking this way, he attempts to avoid the shame of being impious, but does not merit the praise of having given an open and candid confession. If his views were good and right he should not have used these evasions.’ (220) ‘Aristotle speaks ambiguously about whether God is the author of happiness, but we affirm that point most constantly’. (230)

Sometimes the ‘Christian’ application seems so different from what Aristotle is taken to be saying as to make the much longer and more elaborate discussion of Aristotle seem beside the point. So at the opening of his discussion of Bk I Ch.4, where Aristotle discusses his procedure (in his determination of what happiness is) Vermigli is bold enough to say regarding the constituent parts of what happiness is that holy scripture ’is more preferable in this context than philosophy’, (78) for it proposes a two-fold end for us, one in this life and one in the life to come. But he goes on to endorse Aristotle’s own procedure in establishing the nature of true happiness, proceeding from effects to their causes, from just, brave, well-balanced, prudent actions to their corresponding virtues, which, together with the premise that virtues depend upon happiness as their goal, enables Aristotle to arrive at an understanding of what happiness is, rather than adopt the procedure of first defining happiness. (81, 83) This gives rise to a detailed epistemological discussion. (91-2) The supreme end in this life is that we be justified in Christ which differs from the end of eternal life only in degree. Nevertheless even this supports Aristotle’s view that there are great differences among people as to what happiness is. Nevertheless in Scripture God seeks to establish faith in himself, his greatness, by what he does. He appeals to Romans 8.32 – He who gave up his only son will freely gives us all things besides. ‘As Aristotle wishes to use demonstrations based on results and consequences, so from the effects just mentioned, we may conclude that we have acquired eternal happiness’. Yet while Aristotle restricts his ethical teaching to a certain kind of student, to those without corrupt minds, God invites anyone to study his teaching. (92)

One might draw various conclusions from this style of comparing and contrasting. Vermigli might take the view that lectures on Aristotle are not the time or the place to discuss Christian theology at length. If so then this is likely to emanate from a warm endorsement of Aristotle’s general outlook on the place of reason in ethics, on the nature of virtue and its relation to happiness, holding that this is so satisfactory that it only needs a little tweaking from the Christian theologian. For the most part it looks as if he thinks that a Christian outlook can be bolted onto the body of Aristotle’s thought.

Another possibility, which Vermigli seems occasionally to favour, is that Aristotle is dealing with family and especially civic virtue, and so we must bear in mind that the Nicomachean Ethics is simply the first part of a two volume work on political ethics. In which case this would be the wrong place to look for an account of ethics which places a premium on motive and intention in the manner of, say, Augustine, or of the New Testament. So for example Vermigli comments ‘Nor should we fail to point our that Aristotle spoke improperly when he said that action ‘will of necessity be acting and acting well’ since in truth it is not the action that acts, but that by which men act. But he could speak like this because the distinction is not important for the question under discussion’. (204) Aristotle is telling us how we ought to behave in the polis, what the good political life consists in, and so has things of direct value to the Christian in that role; otherwise we should be blaming Aristotle for do doing something that he was not trying to do in the first place.

Writing of the governing of the passions, he says

One thing now remains to be seen: how these passions may be governed and corrected. The first is the ‘civil’ way, through moral virtues. These bring the passions back to the mean and are sufficient, if we consider only the present life before God, however they are not so, nor does civil justice suffice before his judgment seat. There is need, then, for another standard, namely that of holy scripture, which is useless unless it is grasped by faith.(319)

As I say, there is some evidence for such a view: At one place (197) Vermigi asks, does not the scriptural statement that those sins have been forgiven and whose iniquities are forgiven are blessed (Ps.32.1-2) not refute the Aristotelian motif the end of man is happiness revealed in action? Vermigli replies

We are not speaking of that kind of happiness, but only of the happiness that follows primary happiness and lies in acting properly in this life and in contemplating and enjoying the sight of the supreme God in the world to come In other words. (197)

See also his reference to the virtues being political (253), having to do with the nature of civil morality. (319) So there is some ambiguity here. Sometimes Vermigli says that moral action has the same structure in Aristotle and in the gospel. (41) At other times he gently makes the point that Aristotle was a stranger to God’s revelation in Jesus. At still other times he forcefully criticises Aristotle for his paganism. Though I am not aware that Vermigli uses the terminology, he may at times be suggesting that the ethics of Aristotle has to do chiefly, if not exclusively, with the first kingdom, the earthly kingdom, and not with the kingdom of God. Certainly at one place h endorses the thought given prominence by Calvin that whatever the source of some truth God the Holy Spirit is its ultimate author. As Vermigli puts the point, ‘we do not deny the sentiment that is hallowed by the centuries, which says that any truth set forth by any author proceeds from the Holy Spirit’. (Cited by McLelland in his Introduction, but the reference to the main text (66) is inaccurate).

One other thing occurred to me: the pattern of detailed exegesis and commentary of Aristotle, followed usually by a much briefer scriptural comment, is consistent with Vermigli having first prepared and given the lectures at some stage in his earlier years in Italy – either before he adopted evangelical views, or afterwards. If afterwards, if the lectures were prepared and delivered (1537-1542) then the evangelical views, the comments on scripture, may already have been present in them; if earlier, then they may have been added during this later period as he climbed up the rungs of the ladder of the Augustinian order, finally becoming abbot of St. Pietro and Aram in Naples (1537-40) and Prior of S. Frediano in Lucca (1541-42), during which time he established a reformed theological college. There is some additional evidence for this, perhaps: those theological discussions that occur within a lecture, as opposed to being at its end, are not specifically Protestant. We have already noted a discussion of Augustine and platonic ideas, and there is one on Pelagianism, (216) which one might expect from an Augustinian friar. There are exceptions, however. In the middle of one lecture he criticises ‘what the Papists do in reducing the pure religion of Christ, which is already complete in itself, to a histrionic Mass’. (205) So the form of the lectures is generally consistent with them being in existence before Vermigli fled Italy, and then being ‘Protestantized’ by having a tail added to most of them, giving Scriptural comments of a Protestant kind. Why prepare more lectures when one already has a perfectly good set? The pre-existence of the lectures may even have determined that in Strasbourg he lectured on the Nicomachean Ethics and not on some other part of the Aristotelian corpus.