In the second Commandment, God directs us, "You shall not make for yourself an idol . . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them" (Exod. 20:4-5 NRSV). In Chapter 11 of the Institutes, Calvin wholly concurs - don't do it. Calvin makes several well-founded points:
* "God himself is the sole and proper witness of himself" (p. 100).
* Humans create idols, which is contrary to God.
* God is not on a level with inanimate objects.
* God, who is immeasurable and incomprehensible, cannot be reduced to material goods.
Calvin goes on say that images displease God because they dishonor his majesty. Calvin points out that God is never actually depicted in the Bible. Images of clouds, flames, smoke, and mercy seats are areas in which God moves, but they do not represent God.
Lane, in A Reader's Guide to Calvin's Institutes, asks the question, "What is Calvin's attitude toward images of God?" Calvin uses many and varied references from Scripture to inform the reader that idolatry is a revolt against the true God (p. 99). In other words, God should never be downsized to fit our minds, nor molded by our hands. Anything we create would be a container far too small for God.
Idolatry is a timeless issue, no less important today than in the times of Calvin and Moses. I have a question for further reflection. Calvin concentrates heavily on physical objects and artwork. I have heard many sermons on the topic of the second Commandment call attention to abstract idols such as power and wealth. In your reading of Calvin on this topic, would you consider Calvin's treatment of idolatry to include such "idols?"
Just as Calvin's treatment of idolatry proceeds from Scripture, so, too, does his treatment of the Trinity. From John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Calvin, in Chapter 13 of the Institutes, uses this verse of Scripture to show that Jesus was distinct from God and yet also God. In the same way, Calvin uses Scripture to show that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but is also God (Rom. 8). The Trinity is quite a mind-boggling concept to come to terms with, but until we do so, Calvin contends, "only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains" (p. 122).
Calvin alternatively uses the words 'hypostases' and 'persons' to name the three parts of the Trinity. Likewise, he uses the words 'subsistence' and 'substance' to describe how they relate. Calvin was less concerned with the words than with the concept. Lane asks, "How does Calvin relate together the oneness and the threeness of God?"
In Calvin's words, "when we profess to believe in one God, under the name of God is understood a single, simple essence, in which we comprehend three persons, or hypostases" (p. 144). In my words, Calvin goes on to say that we can call the Father "God," or Jesus "God," or the Spirit "God" when we speak of oneness, but when we speak of threeness, we must use the relational terms - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I would agree with Calvin that the Three-In-One is essential to the understanding of Christianity, however difficult it is to put into our heads. Perhaps Calvin would agree that feeling the majesty of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts will be sufficient.
My question is this: Given the modern aversion to patriarchal language, and Calvin's affinity for using various means to impart knowledge of a concept, do you think that the Trinitarian words, "Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer" are in keeping with his teachings?