Monday, April 04, 2011

Calvin's Spiritual Theology of Ascent

The ladder of ascent has been a repeated theme in Christian spiritual writers over the last 1800 or so years. Folks like Origen, Augustine, Benedict, Bernard, Aquinas, et al, have constructed steps by which we ascend to God, or in Bernard's case descend in humility.

I've been interested with these steps, or stages in the spiritual life since I began to study Spiritual Theology under Bruce Hindmarsh. Under his tutelage I continued to find refuge in the reformed tradition's twin emphasis on Christ's love preceding our love and the Christian's duty to 'ascend' (of course enabled by the Spirit and because of God's grace). Someone once said that in Geneva all men are monks. And C.S. Lewis said that the Puritan's got rid of the "honors" and raised the "pass". You get the idea.

Currently I'm reading Julie Canlis' (a once Regent person as well) great book Calvin's Ladder where she unpacks Calvin's "spiritual theology of ascent"--it's reinvigorating my interest in spiritual theology. Here's a quote from Calvin that stood out:

As Paul, in speaking of the passage of the Israelites across the Red Sea, allegorically represents the drowning of Pharaoh as the mode of deliverance by water (1 Corinthians 10:1), so we may be permitted to say that in baptism our Pharaoh is drowned, our old man is crucified, our members mortified, we are buried with Christ, and removed from the captivity of the devil and the power of death, but removed only into the desert, a land arid and poor, unless the Lord rain manna from heaven, and cause water to gush forth from the rock. For our soul, like that land without water, is in want of all things, till he, by the grace of his Spirit, rain upon it. We afterwards pass into the land of promise, under the honey; that is, the grace of God frees us from the body of death, by our Lord Jesus Christ... But Jerusalem, the capital and seat of the kingdom, has not yet been erected; nor yet does Solomon, the Prince of Peace, hold the scepter and rule over all.



mrteague said...

Man, Calvin nailed it. Makes me think I need to read some Calvin! Thanks for sharing :)

thechestnuts said...


what a quote huh?

i am looking forward to jumping into this book later this year. though i have put it down for lent, i am working (all too slowly) through the institutes and would love to read more from canlis (i read her short article on the institutes as a primer for spiritual formation which really made me realize that calvin is probably not the man he is often made out to be). while i am pretty sure i have too much boersma in me to ever find a real home in the calvinist tradition, i must say actually reading calvin himself has been both a humbling and surprising treat.

anyway we should skype or talk, or you should move to east van.

much love,

bryan halferty said...

CHESTNUT!!!! Man do I miss yuh. Saw Manzo and James last month.

Glad you're learning to appreciate Calvin, not mistaking him for his shadow.

Skype soon?