- Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin
Randall C. Zachman's Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin constitutes a major revision of a longstanding assumption regarding Calvin's theology of divine self-manifestation. At the heart of Zachman's work is a reassessment of [End Page 1310] an important aspect of Calvin's theology. For long the consensus has been to assert the priority of proclamation over and above manifestation in Calvin's theology. In his introduction, Zachman cites scholars such as William Bouwsma, Edward Dowey, Carlos M. N. Eire, Brian Gerrish, Lucien Richard, and Thomas F. Torrance as typical of this consensus. Zachman does not dispute that there is abundant evidence in Calvin's writings to support the view that he favored hearing over seeing —i.e., hearing of the Word of God over the visual representations of the divine —as the conduit for the knowledge of God. However, his central thesis is that throughout his literary career Calvin articulated a complex understanding of the relationship between Word and image that exceeded the contours of the prevailing view. Moreover, he argues that Calvin made an important distinction between "living images" and "dead images" that allowed him to sustain a prolonged reflection on the character and nature of divine self-manifestation. According to Zachman, Calvin believed in the essential interdependence of Word and image, or proclamation and manifestation.
Zachman recognizes his own indebtedness to recent scholarship that has been slowly but surely chipping away the existing consensus. Zachman mentions Philip Butin, Barbara Pitkin, Mary Potter Engel, and Susan Schreiner among the scholars leading the way in this area. Zachman, though, goes further in terms of the sheer breadth of the material that he takes into consideration. In fact, Zachman asserts that the interdependence of proclamation and manifestation "is not present in a few isolated topics of Calvin's theology but is central to the way that he thinks theologically" (7). Accordingly, Zachman takes upon himself the examination of a number of works that Calvin produced between 1535 and the time of his death including biblical prefaces, Old Testament and New Testament commentaries, theological treatises, and the different editions of the Institutes. His book is organized into two parts. In the first part, he examines Calvin's treatment of the "living images" of God the Creator. In the second and longest part, Zachman discusses Calvin's construction of the living images of God the Redeemer. From a theological perspective it is regrettable that he did not adopt a tripartite arrangement and did not address separately Calvin's treatment of the living images of God the Sustainer. His combination of both synchronic and diachronic perspectives allows him to show, almost definitely, that Calvin kept together both aspects of divine self-disclosure not just in one or two of his works, but rather throughout his career.
Renaissance scholars will be at once delighted and disheartened by Zachman's presentation. As part of his introduction, Zachman identifies the classic, patristic, and humanist roots of Calvin's theology of divine self-manifestation. Of deep and longstanding influence was Calvin's encounter with the stoic philosophers Cicero and Seneca. In Calvin's edition of Seneca's De Clementia (1532), Zachman finds the earliest expression of Calvin's interest in the idea of divine self-manifestation. He also argues that Calvin adopted from Augustine the notion of images as ascending steps leading humanity to God. Furthermore, he recognizes the humanist poetry of Marguerite of Navarre as one of the chief sources of the mirror imagery that influenced Calvin's theology of divine self-disclosure. Finally, he [End Page 1311] suggests that Calvin's notion of "living images" can be traced back to Desiderius Erasmus. The humanist roots of Calvin's idea of divine self-manifestation, however, quickly fade as mere background after the "Introduction."
Zachman makes another major contribution to our contemporary perception of John Calvin. His discussion of Calvin's understanding of divine self-manifestation...