Bavinck on the principia of faculty psychology

It would be a shame if this little book disappeared from the psychological literature. For the foundations (beginselen) described in it have had my lifelong acceptance, and they remain powerful principles deserving use and expression alongside pure empirical psychology.

[. . .]

. . . this [faculty] psychology supplies a much deeper and subtler insight into the nature of psychic life and the mutual connection of its activities than does the psychology that has arisen in more recent times. . . . [The latter is] a fruit of the philosophy that had its inception with René Descartes (1596–1650) and Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and which, in principle, was a reaction against Aristotelian scholasticism.

—Preface to Herman Bavinck, Beginselen er psychologie, 2nd ed., ed. Valentijn Hepp (Kampen: Kok, 1923) [PDF: NeoCalvinism.org 1, NeoCalvinism.org 2]; English trans.: preface to Bavinck, Foundations of Psychology, trans. Jack Vanden Born, Nelson D. Kloosterman, and John Bolt, ed. John Bolt in Bavinck Review 9 (2018) (emended); Bavinck, Beginselen, 27; Bavinck, Foundations, 26.

“There is never a reasonable basis or ground for sin.”

Magnalia Dei (1909) by Herman Bavinck
Magnalia Dei (1909) by Herman Bavinck

. . . sin, by virtue of its nature, always has a quality of unreasonableness and arbitrariness about it. When someone has sinned, he always tries to excuse or justify himself, but in this he never succeeds. There is never a reasonable basis or ground for sin. Its existence is and remains always lawlessness. True, some in our time try to maintain that the misdoer is brought to his sinful act by circumstances or by his disposition, but such internal or external inevitability is in one’s own conscience always subjected to overwhelming contradiction. Neither rationally nor psychologically is sin to be traced back to a disposition or action which has any reason or right to exist.

—Herman Bavinck, Magnalia Dei, 2nd ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1931 [PDF: Delpher, NeoCalvinism.org]), 207; English trans.: Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 224.

“One comes to eternal life by way of work.”

Magnalia Dei (1909) by Herman Bavinck
Magnalia Dei (1909) by Herman Bavinck

. . . God created man good and according to his own image in order that he might rightfully know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify Him. The final purpose of man lay in the eternal blessedness, in the glorification of God in heaven and on earth. In order to enter into the rest of God he first had to finish God’s work. The way to heaven goes through the earth and over the earth. The entrance to the Sabbath is opened by the six days of work. One comes to eternal life by way of work.

—Herman Bavinck, Magnalia Dei, 2nd ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1931 [PDF: Delpher, NeoCalvinism.org]), 200; English trans.: Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 217.

“Nothing is good outside of faith.”

Nothing is good outside of faith. Brothers, those who abound in good works and are ignorant of the God of piety are like (to use a figure of speech) the remains of corpses, which, though clothed in beautiful things, don’t perceive the beautiful things. For what is the advantage of a dead soul, dead to the word of God, but clothed with good works? Works occur in the hope of compensation and crowns. But if you are ignorant of the judge, what do you contend for? Faith mustn’t be stripped of good works in order that it not be insulted; but faith is higher than works. For just as humans ought to especially esteem being alive, so too being nourished (for that which maintains our life is nourishment). In this way, our hope in Christ ought to be most important in our life, but also be nourished with good works.

—Severian of Gabala (4th. cent), De fide et de lege natura, trans. Bryson Sewell

Verum cum vero non pugnat: Maccovius, Voetius, & Bavinck on philosophy and theology

First, a few theses from Johannes Maccovius’s Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules, ch. 1, On Holy Scripture:

XXXVIII. The object of theology and the object of philosophy are diverse and distinct.

XXXIX. Truth never runs counter to (pugno) truth.

XL. Sound reason and theology do not conflict (pugno).1

Second, a thesis from Gisbertus Voetius’s Thersites, self-tormentor:

I. The light of nature does not fight with (pugno) the light of grace, nor philosophy with theology. Therefore, a-theological, and also doing injury to God and His truth, are those who condemn philosophy.2

Third, a summation from Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, which employs the “non pugno” motif in Bavinck’s European narrative style:

If theology thus has its internal principle not in faith as such but in believing reflection, the task of reason in theological science calls for further definition. In this context we must first of all and fundamentally reject the notion that regards faith and reason as two independent powers engaging in a life-and-death struggle with each other. . . . Faith, the faith by which we believe (de fides qua creditur), is not an organ or faculty next to or above reason but a disposition or habit of reason itself. . . . Faith, therefore, does not relieve Christians of the desire to study and reflect; rather it spurs them on to the end. Nature is not destroyed by regeneration but restored.

Believers who want to devote themselves to the study of theology, accordingly, must prepare their minds for the task awaiting them. There is no admission to the temple of theology except by way of the study of the arts. Indispensable to the practitioner of the science of theology is philosophical, historical, and linguistic preparatory training.3


  1. Distinctiones et regulae theologicae ac philosophicae (1653), 20-21; translation from Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644) on Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules, translated and edited by Willem J. van Asselt, Michael D. Bell, Gert van den Brink, Rein Ferwerda (Apeldoorn: Instituut voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009), 78–81. 
  2. Thersites heautontimorumenos (Utrecht : Ex Officinâ Abrahami ab Herwiick & Hermanni Ribbii, 1635), 347; translation from Aza Goudriaan, Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen, Brill’s Series in Church History 26 (Brill, 2006), 30; cf. B. Hoon Woo, “‘The Understanding of Gisbertus Voetius and René Descartes on the Relationship of Faith and Reason, and Theology and Philosophy,” Westminster Theological Journal 75, No. 1 (2013): 45–63; quote referenced at p. 54. 
  3. Vol. 1, Prolegomena, trans. John Vriend, ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 616–17; Bavinck quotes Voetius’s disputations at 616n41; see also 618n46 for Bavinck’s short list of sources on the philosophy-theology relation, which includes the same disputations by Voetius. 

a prayer befitting the covenant of works

O Lord Jehovah, how little do we, poor miserable mortals, know of thy Supreme Deity, and incomprehensible perfections! . . . May the consciousness of our ignorance in other things kindle in our hearts an ineffable desire of that beatific vision, by which, knowing as we are known, we may in the abyss of thy infinity behold those things which no thought of ours at present can reach!

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants, ch. 4. sec. 23.

Perhaps it is not far off to say that the health of one’s knowledge of the doctrine of the covenant is proportionate to an increase in such apropos prostrations before the Almighty and confessions of limitation.

Whether or not such a rule attains, this flavor of theologia viatorum is one to be desired.

Sedeo, ergo sum

We do not say with Descartes: “Cogito, ergo sum,” . . . ; on the contrary, instead of basing ourselves immediately upon the operation which is proper to the highest of our faculties, we rest first of all and with great assurance in the experience of touching, in which we have at the same time an experience of existing. To be sure, this consciousness is not without thought, but it is a thought which depends upon touch and which does not as yet reveal itself as thought. It is the tangible qualities which are to us first principles of thought and action. If we had to venture an Aristotelian counterpart to Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum,” we would say without hesitation: “Sedeo, ergo sum”: I am sitting, therefore I am.

Charles De Koninck, “«Sedeo, Ergo Sum»: Considerations on the Touchstone of Certitude,” Laval Théologique et Philosophique 6, no. 2 (1950): 343–48.

A Reformation Day Prayer

O Almighty God, who has built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant that by the operation of the Holy Ghost, all Christians may be so joined together in unity of Spirit, and in the bond of peace, that they may be an holy temple acceptable unto thee.

. . . [G]ive the abundance of thy grace, that with one heart they may desire the prosperity of thy holy universal Church, and with one mouth may profess the faith once delivered to the saints. Defend them from the sins of heresy and schism; let not the foot of pride come night to hurt them, nor the hand of the ungodly to cast them down.

And grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness: that so they may walk in the ways of truth and peace, and at last be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting; through thy merits, O blessed Jesus, thou gracious Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, who art, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

“For the Unity, Purity, and Prosperity of the Church Universal,” in The Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, A. D. 1661, ed. Charles W. Shields (Philadelphia: James Claxton, 1867), 369–70.

Aquinas: the old woman’s faith vs. the philosophers’ reason

“The just man liveth by faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4] This is evident in that no one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith.

Thomas Aquinas, Catechical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Joseph B. Collins (Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1939), 4.

Ellebogius: “When in doubt . . .”

Regarding God’s goodness, all the Protestant doctors of high esteem share the same rule: if there is the slightest doubt, go Trappist; if the doubt persists, go Dubbel; if the persistence persists, go Tripel. Against such things, when conjoined with moderation and gratitude, no doubt however dark can succeed inasmuch as the good is self-diffusive.

— Cornelius Ellebogius