Herman Bavincks thoughts on the Natural Good and Moral Good part 1


                                                                                                       Photo by Katie Hollamby from Pexels

Bavinck with his incredible theological mind can make something trivial such as eating, drinking, sleeping and walking which he calls natural goods, as he says are neither good nor evil.  Then he goes on by saying that these things can become good and evil by the way they are used.  It all depends on the inclination… he gives the example of lust or laziness. On three concentric circles one has the centre ‘spiritual’ then the middle ring ‘moral’ and on the outer ring the natural.  Bavinck says that these have not been destroyed but weakened. 

He goes on to say that moral good has also remained and some think that even Pagans can be saved.  The Pelagians, Socinians and the Jesuits would take this view about the virtues.  Against this he mentions Tertullian on sin: Sin is not only external but internal as well.  What might look like a virtue on the external might actually be done as a sin internally.   So quoting Bavinck on Tertullian; Bavinck writes.

‘Tertullian remarked that the pagans prohibit only external

sins, but our law forbids also internal sins. And then he asks, “So then, where

is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher? between the

disciple of Greece and of heaven? between the man whose object1s fame,’ (page 155. Reformed Ethics.)

Chastity         Castitas         Purity, abstinence Lust    Luxuria

Temperance Temperantia Humanity, equanimity    Gluttony       Gula

Charity           Caritas Will, benevolence, generosity, sacrifice        Greed  Avaritia

Diligence       Industria       Persistence, effortfulness, ethics           Sloth Acedia

Patience        Patientia       Forgiveness, mercy            Wrath            Ira

Kindness       Humanitas    Satisfaction, compassion Envy   Invidia

Humility        Humilitas      Bravery, modesty, reverence      Pride Superbia

The seven and their opposites from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_virtues


The theological virtues have God as their object of worship.

‘Theological virtues are virtues associated in Christian theology and philosophy with salvation resulting from the grace of God.[1] Virtues are traits or qualities which dispose one to conduct oneself in a morally good manner. Traditionally they have been named Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love), and can trace their importance in Christian theology to Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13, who also pointed out that “the greatest of these is love.”’

Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_virtues


Obviously, all the above virtues can also be done from pride.  For example ‘look at me how good I am!’ instead of ‘O Lord help me by your grace to attain to your holiness’

What can we make of all of this?

Bavinck first looks at the goals of these virtues he says; ‘Natural moral theory emphasizes works (from the outside to the inside, disposition acquired through deeds), whereas Christian moral theory emphasizes the person (first the tree is good, then the fruit). Natural theory does not relate good works to God. The ultimate ground and highest purpose is not God, but humanity, society, the state, the political end.’ (Reformed Ethics page 157 Herman Bavinck)

Reflection on the above quote

As Christians our objective is to worship God, God is the centre.  This is not the case for socialists, conservatives, Greens, Communists and the other ‘…ists’ and there are many of them. Their goal is as he says human society, the state, the political end… These are earthly things.  Although they are important to have our goals are in Christ. 

We have also seen that natural goods can become good or evil depending on the inclination of the soul.  It is true that Pagans and others have reached high virtues, but this does not mean that the intentions were pure.   As Tertullian noted, God sees beyond the external to the internal.  Christians also need to remember this we are no better than the Pagans or whatever religion or non-religion, we sin too.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who is the perfector of our faith.  Next time we will look at Bavincks interpretations of John Calvin on this topic, the relationship of philosophy to theology.  This is an important topic.  The reason why I am not writing about it straight away is because I want to do justice to Herman Bavincks understanding of John Calvin here and I am not going to rush.


What about the situation today?

What saddened me about Donald Trump was when he was in power that he claimed to be a Christian, yet he told many lies on a daily basis.  This is unethical because Christians are supposed to tell the truth.  I hope that the Republican Party think about the ethic of politics especially what Belief in God actually means.  It is by the grace of Christ we are to live but this does not give us a reason to break the 10 commandments.

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