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§ 15. Preliminary Statement. The Natural and Supernatural Knowledge of God.

The full and saving knowledge of God we obtain, of course, only from revelation. But aside from this there exists a knowledge of God, for we find it even among the heathen. We can therefore distinguish a twofold source from which the knowledge of God may be derived, the one, the volume of 104Nature, and the other, the volume of the Scriptures; and the knowledge of God is accordingly both natural, and revealed or supernatural. [3]

The natural knowledge is either innate or acquired, i.e., a certain knowledge of God is inborn, and this can be expanded and further confirmed by the contemplation of the works and ways of God in nature and history. [4] The knowledge thus arising, though in itself true, may nevertheless be corrupted and changed into error through the moral depravity existing in man; [5] it is at best very imperfect, making known indeed something concerning God, e.g., His existence and somewhat of His attributes and will, but this never in its entire extent, and never in such manner as to give to man an absolute certainty, so as to furnish a trustworthy guide for his faith and life; [6] much less does it suffice to secure his salvation. [7] The reason of this imperfection lies, however, in the depravity of human nature, which, since its fall, can no longer lift itself up to a perfect knowledge of God. All knowledge thus derived we must therefore regard as the remnant of a knowledge which, but for the Fall, we would have possessed in full measure. [8] It serves, accordingly, rather to awaken in us a longing after true and perfect knowledge (cognitio paedagogica), and in some measure to regulate our moral deportment, even before the knowledge communicated by revelation has reached us (cognitio paedeutica); and it can also be profitably employed along with the revealed knowledge (cognitio didactica). [9] We still need revelation, therefore, in order to acquire full and true knowledge. [10]

[1] GRH. (III, 1): “That this doctrine concerning God is necessary, is proved (1) by the design for which man was created. Just as all things else were created on account of man, so man was brought into being in order rightly to know and worship, to love and honor God his Creator. . . . (2) By the design for which God reveals Himself. God, coming forth from the hidden seat of His majesty, not only in the creation of the world, but also and most of all in the revelation of His Word, out of His boundless goodness unto men reveals Himself, surely with no other aim than that men may rightly know God through this revelation, and may preserve and hand down to their posterity the true doctrine concerning God, free from any intermixture of error and in its integrity.” 105[MEL. begins his Loci of 1542: “For this end man was created and redeemed, that he might be the image and temple of God, to proclaim God’s praises.”]

[2] GRH. (ibid.): “As the Holy Scriptures are the only source of knowledge in Theology, so God, boundless in goodness, supreme in power, is the only and absolute source of existence, not only with reference to the Holy Scriptures themselves (in which the Word of God or the divine revelation is contained), but also with reference to the divine works concerning which Theology treats. The centre of all Scripture, the nucleus of Theology, the end and aim of our knowledge and desire, all these are one and the same. We pass, therefore, in convenient order, from the article concerning the Scriptures to the article concerning the Nature of God and the Divine Attributes.”

QUEN. (I, 250): “The chief end of man and of all Theology is God, and the knowledge, worship, and enjoyment of God; with the doctrine concerning Him, therefore, we properly begin, when Theology is teated after the manner of a practical discipline.”

HOLL. (187): “As Theology is a practical science, we are first of all to treat of its design. But as the aim of Theology is twofold, in part objective, that is, the infinitely perfect and supremely beneficent God, and partly formal, that is, the beholding and beatific fruition of God; so the objective end of Theology, namely, God, who thoroughly satisfies the desire of man, is first to be considered.”

[3] GRH. (I, 93): “Two things lead to the knowledge of God: the creature and the Scripture (Augustine).”

HOLL. (188): “The knowledge of God is sought both by the light of Nature or Reason, and by the light of Revelation.”

[4] QUEN. (I, 251): “The natural knowledge of God is that by which man, without any special revelation, may know of himself, though very imperfectly, by the light of Nature and from the Book of Nature, that there is some supreme Divinity, that He, by His own wisdom and power, controls this whole universe, and that He has brought all things into being.”

GRH. (I, 93): “Innate knowledge is that common conception concerning God engraven and impressed upon the mind of every man by Nature, and hence from the womb, as though from principles born within us or κοιναις εννοιαις (which are nothing else than certain remains and ερειπια of the divine image, sparks and scintillations of that clear light which shone with full splendor in the mind of man before the fall), which also embrace some knowledge of God; as, that He is one, good, etc.” (III, 42): “These scintillations 106therefore we refer to that internal Book of Nature, to which also belongs the book συνειδησεος, the internal testimony of conscience, which the scholastics call συντηρησις; for from principles born within us there arises in the heart of every one this practical syllogism: ‘He who leads an impious life shall experience the wrath and punishment of a divine judge.’ The reason of this lies in that which is by nature engraven upon all, i.e., that there is a God, that God is to be worshiped, that God is the avenger of crimes. The conscience of the guilty adds: ‘I have led a wicked life.’”

(Id., III, 42): “Natural knowledge is acquired by the human mind from the external Book of Nature, i.e., from the contemplation of the divine effects and ways, by the exercise of its natural powers.” As such effects of the divine agency, GRH. enumerates (I, 94): “(1) The creation of things visible. (2) The variety, beauty, and order of created things. (3) The supporting, governing, and preserving of created things. (4) The profuse bestowment of the various gifts which minister to the necessities of man and other living beings. (5) The notice and retribution of the avenging eye and hand of God. (5) The working of miracles. (7) The foretelling of future events. (8) The periodical overthrow of kingdoms. (9) The nature of the human mind. (10) The fragments of natural knowledge, and among these the distinction of good and evil. (11) The terrors, gnawings, and stings of conscience. (12) The series of efficient and final causes.”

[Mel. (Loci, 1542) cites as proofs of the Divine existence: 1. The order of Nature, which could not have arisen or be maintained by accident, or have arisen from matter. The perpetuity of species, e.g., that men are born of men, and cattle of cattle, is cited as one illustration. 2. The nature of the human mind. A senseless and irrational thing cannot be the cause of an intelligent nature. 3. Moral distinctions made universally by men. These could not have originated from matter. 4. The universality of the testimony to God’s existence. 5. Terrors of conscience, implying a Supreme Judge. 7. Organization of political society, which could not have arisen accidentally, but points to a divine mind, implanting within man the capacity and laws of order. 7. The series of efficient causes implying a First Cause. If the series were infinite, there would be no order among the causes, and none would necessarily cohere. 8. Final causes prove a designing mind. Everything in Nature is arranged with reference to an end.]

[GRH. (III, 4) recapitulates proofs of philosophers and scholastics: 1. The series of moving objects in this world implies a First Mover. 2. The order of efficient causes implies a First Cause. 3. 107The different degrees of good imply a Supreme Standard. 4. The direction of all things, even those that are irrational, towards a certain end. 5. The natural inclination of all men to believe that there is a Governor of the Universe, whom they call God. This is illustrated by the fact that, in sudden dangers, when men recognize the impotency of human aid, they instinctively resort to prayer.]

QUEN. (I, 253): “The natural knowledge of God is twofold; partly εμφυτος, or by nature impressed upon the minds of men in their very origin, innate and implanted, by which men recognize God through certain principles born within them, as it were by certain fragments and remains of the divine image, without any research or operation of the mind; partly επικτετος, or acquired, because it is evolved through the inborn principles of nature through a process of reasoning and the accurate contemplation of created things, or gathered from the works of God in creation and those traces of divinity which are scattered throughout the universe. The former is called subjective; the latter, objective. The former all men, even infants, possess; but the latter is not found in all. The former is propagated by generation; the latter by the instruction of others, or also by personal culture and investigation. The former may be called constitutional knowledge, for it belongs to us after the manner of a constitutional tendency, even before the use and exercise of reason; the latter, actual, because it exerts itself and is obtained by reasoning and research.” Compare also the remark of GRH. (III, 46): “Finally, we observe, that when Ostorodus says that men do not obtain whatever knowledge they have of God or of divinity from nature, or from the contemplation of created things, but alone by hearing and from the teaching of others, the word, “hearing,” is ambiguous. For if Ostorodus means that for all knowledge of God there is required a special manifestation of God through the Word, this we totally deny; but, if by the word, hearing, be understood the doctrine and precepts derived from our ancestors, who followed nature alone as a teacher, then we say that this, no less than the principles connate with us, and also the contemplation of created things, belongs to natural knowledge. But, although the arguments are distinct by which we demonstrate as well the innate as the acquired natural knowledge of God; yet, when the Photinians deny both, it is sufficient for us to prove against them that there is some natural knowledge of God, from whatever source derived, whether from natural instinct, or intuition, or the instruction of others, who have followed Nature alone as a teacher.”

CAL., in opposition to the Socinians, thus sums up the propositions 108in regard to the natural knowledge of God: “(1) That man, destitute of the revealed Word of God, can attain, by the use of sound reason, to some knowledge concerning God, His being and His general will or providence. (II, 61) (2) That not only the faculty or the power of knowing God, but also a certain knowledge of God, belongs to us by nature. (II, 73) (3) Although there does not belong to man a knowledge of God before the use and exercise of reason, so far as concerns a distinct notion or mental conception, yet we think it cannot be denied that there exists in man a certain disposition, or a kind of constitutional tendency, a certain τελειωσις of intellectual power left in man after the Fall, by the use of which man can, to some extent, recognize God without the help of a teacher. (II, 80.) (4) That it is known to man, not only naturally, but also per se, that there is a God.” (II, 86.)

The proof for the existence of an innate knowledge is drawn from Rom. 1:19, and 2:14, 15; also from the following reasons: “(1) From the connate distinction between good and evil that is stamped upon the minds of all; (2) From the dread of a supreme divinity naturally springing up in the hearts of men; (3) From the terrors of an evil conscience and the cheerfulness and security of a good conscience; (4) From the torments of conscience on account of a crime committed. . . . (5) From the unanimous consent of all nations; (6) From the secret inclination of all to some form of religion; (7) From moral precepts drawn from the light of nature.” (QUEN. I, 253.)

The acquired knowledge is proved from Rom. 1:20; Acts 17:27.

[5] QUEN. (I, 253): “That the natural knowledge of God is true, is evident from this, that the apostle expressly calls it αλεθεια, Rom. 1:18 sq., and with the addition, αλεθειαν του θεου, v. 25, as that which springs from the original truth; where, nevertheless, we must distinguish between the natural knowledge of God, considered in and through itself, and in so far as it has united with it imperfection, corruption of reason, and a proclivity to various errors. Viewed in the former light it is true, viewed in the latter it is mingled through accident with falsehood.”

[6] CAL. (II, 47): “The imperfection of the natural knowledge of God as to those things which are revealed in nature, and its nullity as to the supernatural mysteries of faith.”

QUEN. (I, 253): “The natural knowledge of God is imperfect mainly in two respects: (1) as regards its object, this being either altogether unknown (and here belongs the Gospel, which is a mystery hidden from the ages), or not fully known (and here belongs the doctrine of the Law, which man knows from natural 109sources only in part); (2) As regards its subject, either not recognizing God with sufficient constancy, or sometimes doubting concerning Him in consequence of congenital corruption.”

CHMN. (Loci, I, 20): “The natural knowledge of God either amounts to nothing, or is imperfect, or languid. It amounts to nothing, since all philosophy knows nothing whatever of the gratuitous promise of the forgiveness of sins; for the Son of God has revealed this to the Church from the bosom of the Eternal Father, John 1:18; Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 1:21; 2:7. It is imperfect, for the heathen know only a small portion of the Law; but of the inner worship of the First Table, reason neither knows not determines anything for certain. Heathen philosophers teach of only external and civil topics, mingling with them many foolish paradoxes, concerning which there is among them no agreement. It is languid, for although the fact that God exists and requires obedience is impressed upon men’s minds, nevertheless, the assent to this is not only feeble, but is often shaken by horrid doubts. An apt illustration is found in the Tusculan Disputations, where Cicero, discussing with Antony the immortality of the soul, says: ‘Read diligently Plato’s treatise concerning the immortality of the soul. Nothing will be left for you to desire.’ ‘This I have done frequently,’ Antony replies; ‘but, somehow or other, as long as I read I assent, but whenever I lay aside the volume and begin to reflect concerning the immortality of the soul, all my assent glides away.’”

In regard to the substance of what is known by the light of nature, QUEN. (I, 255): “The controversy here is not whether man, naturally or without revelation, can recognize το τι εστι, what and who is the true God, according to all the peculiarities of the divine nature; and whether he can naturally fully understand His providence and His special will in the government of the Church and in the eternal salvation of men: for all these things are to be sought only through the revealed Word. But the question is whether man can naturally know το υτι, whether God be, and in general recognize what that Divine Being is, who is the cause of all things in nature, who is just, good, holy, is to be worshiped, etc.; and so, whether man without a revelation can have any adequate knowledge concerning the true God or any true conceptions concerning God, although in particular he may apply them improperly, as e.g., to that which is not truly God.”

With the last remark from Quenstedt compare the statement of Gerhard (I, 96): “We must distinguish between the conception of God, derived by the heathen mind from the contemplation of 110His creatures, and the application of that conception; the former is legitimate, the latter is far from being so. For, although they derive the conception of eternal power and divinity . . . from the Book of Nature, yet they do not rightly apply it to the one Jehovah, . . . but they ascribe the same to irrational animals, serpents, reptiles, etc.; and inasmuch as they of their own accord devise a method of worship, they thereby worship the imagination of their own hearts and not the true God.”

Through the light of nature man attains, therefore, only “a partial knowledge concerning the power, wisdom, goodness and providence of God.” GRH. (III, 60): “Man has been deprived of the knowledge of God, so far as the integrity of natural knowledge is concerned, for the greater part of it has been obliterated from his mind by sin; so far as its purity is concerned, for the knowledge yet remaining is very much obscured; and, in view also of the peculiar wickedness of certain persons.”

[7] QUEN. (I, 261): “The natural knowledge of God is not adequate to secure everlasting life, nor has any mortal ever been redeemed, nor can any one ever be redeemed, by it alone. Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:18; Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:11; Eph. 4:18; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:12.”

MEL. (I, 9): “Although, in some way, the human mind comes to the knowledge of the fact that God punishes the guilty, nevertheless concerning reconciliation it knows nothing without the revelation of the divine promise.”

[8] QUEN. (I, 254): “We must distinguish between the natural knowledge of God, viewed in its original integrity, and the same in its fragmentary remains; the former is a perfect θεονγνωσια, constituting a part of the mental condition of our first parents, as graciously created; the latter, on the other hand, is a partial and imperfect knowledge of God, still inherent in our corrupt nature since the Fall. It is as it were a little spark of primeval light, a small drop from a vast ocean, or an atom of the ashes of a splendid house in ruins.”

[9] CHMN. (Loci, Part I, 21): “The reasons why God imparted the external knowledge of Himself to the minds of all men are: (1) For the sake of external discipline, which God wished to be exercised by all men, even the unregenerate; (2) that God might be sought after (Acts 17:27-30); (3) that He might render men inexcusable (Rom. 1:20).”

CAL. (II, 40): “The use of the natural knowledge of God is (1) Paedagogical, for seeking after the true God, who has manifested Himself through the Scriptures in the Church; (2) Paedeutical, for 111directing morals and external discipline both within and without the Church; (3) Didactic, because it contributes to the exposition and illustration of the Scriptures, if it be rightly employed.” (Also II, 51): “The use of this doctrine (i.e., the topic concerning the natural knowledge of God) is that we may understand whether we can by nature know anything of God, or what and how much we can thus know; lest we either deny those things which are naturally manifest, or ascribe too much importance to them: also, that we gratefully recognize this manifestation and cultivate this natural knowledge as the Book of Nature is daily unfolded, and do not suppress it, or abuse it, but duly unite the Book of Nature with the Book of Scripture, and finally be confirmed and stimulated by the teaching and example of those who have applied themselves to the study of truth and virtue as here exhibited and illustrated.”

[10] QUEN. (I, 268): “The supernatural or revealed knowledge of God is that saving knowledge of the triune God and of divine things, drawn from the written word of God, which has flourished from the beginning of the Church and was ordained for human salvation.”

CHMN. (Loci Th., I, 22): “The saving knowledge of God through which we obtain eternal life, is that revealed through the Word, in which God makes known Himself and His will. To this revelation, God has bound His Church, which knows, worships, and glorifies God only as He has revealed Himself in this Word, so that in this way the true and only Church of God may be distinguished from all heathen religions.”

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