The Fountain of Life: John Calvin, the Devotio Moderna and Metaphorical Theology of Trinity, Word, and Sacrament


Murphy, Reverend Joseph P.


Ph.D,Religious Studies,Drew University; M.Div.,M.Phil, Diplomate in Anglican Studies

Metaphor has been widely studied in literature, philosophy, and linguistics in the 20th and 21st centuries. Prior to this recent study, metaphor was especially important to Christian theology, although older views of metaphor as verbal adornment controlled its understanding. Far less focus has been given to metaphor’s contribution by orthodox Christian theology in the last century than might be expected given the significant interest in the phenomenon in other disciplines. Unorthodox writers, however, such as Sallie McFague and John Hick have used cognitive metaphor theory in support of their theological work, and that in itself may account for the hesitation by contemporary orthodox Christian scholars from utilizing metaphor theory. This breakthrough work shows how an orthodox Christian theology is a natural fit for cognitive metaphor theory. The work affirms cognitive metaphor theory in general form, using Eva Feder Kittay’s work as a representative, and using it, evaluates the thought of Calvin, one of the major sixteenth-century Reformers. In doing so, some surprising historical theological insights result. One is that the ministry of Genevan pastor theologian John Calvin, using the latinized form of his name, and the Reformed theological tradition that follows him to lesser or greater extent, tends to overshadow the fact that the theological work done by Jean Cauvin (the French form of his name), was simply a reform of classical Catholic Christianity. The metaphors in this study are very specific, and are traditional and quite ordinary. However, in Calvin’s thought they are pervasive, appearing in all his writing, and they are used virtually exclusively in reference to God. What’s more, the three thematically unrelated metaphors function together theologically. Together they form a process model, a metaphorical description of the economic model of the Trinity, i.e. how God works in the world in the process of redemption.

Consequently, this work makes a contribution to Christian theology because it demonstrates how a major Christian thinker’s work can be shown to express the benefits of metaphorical theology indicated by Sallie McFague, without the necessity of abandoning the core of Christian theology, because metaphor is, again contra McFague, intrinsically tied to the Church’s Chalcedonian understanding of the Incarnation of the eternal Logos. Secondly, it makes a contribution to the field of Calvin study in that no scholarly work has looked as closely at his metaphors, especially these three, including the work of University of Notre Dame professor Randall Zachmann, whose analysis of Calvin is quite compatible with mine. Specifically, the argument of the work is that these metaphors contribute cognitively to Calvin’s theology, and that entails a broader assessment of his doctrine of humanity in particular. This is important because the later tradition sees him as affirming the total depravity of humanity. Assessment of his use of metaphor suggests, however, that this negative perspective was specifically theological, i.e., purposeful towards the end of salvation for fallen humanity, as opposed to, in Calvin’s estimation, a philosophical perspective of humanity which might well affirm tremendous worth and value even to fallen humanity. The Reformed tradition may not have maintained the distinction as Calvin did. Thirdly, it makes a contribution to the study of the Reformation and of Calvin, clarifying its significant continuity with patristic and traditional Augustinian Christian thought and perhaps placing its discontinuity with medieval Catholicism in sharper relief.

John Calvin,Calvinistic Theology, Reform Christianity, Reformation Studies,Counter-Reformation theology,the Trinity, Atonement,Ecclesiology, Metaphor in doctrinal studies,Religion
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Cloth: 978-1-93314695-9; 193314695-8
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