Original Research

What are the key characteristics of a Christian life? A comparison of the ethics of Calvin to that of Augustine and their relevance today

J.H. van Wyk
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 44 | a179 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v44i0.179 | © 2010 J.H. van Wyk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 July 2010 | Published: 26 July 2010

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J.H. van Wyk, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa

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Augustine and Calvin are two of the greatest (western) theologians of all times and it is illuminating and inspiring to investigate what they have to teach as far as Christian life is concerned. Augustine never wrote a work on Christian ethics in the modern sense of the word but from his many writings we can easily deduce what the key characteristics are. He accepted the natural virtues of philosophers (prudence, for- titude, temperance and justice) but subordinated them to the “infused virtues” of faith, hope and love. Special attention was also paid to inter alia happiness, humility and truth. Calvin, on the other hand, although following Augustine in many aspects of theology, rejected the virtue ethics of the Greek philosophers and developed a Christological ethics within the broader context of pneumatology. The key characteristics of a Christian life are self-denial, cross-bearing and meditation on the future life – and of course the correct enjoyment of the present life. Although we appreciate much of what the two church fathers have to say, we live in a totally different world context today, facing challenges of far greater proportions, like economical uncertainty, political instability and an immense ecological crisis. Morality is chal- lenged today as never before in world history. Today we have to rethink the relevance of Christian life not only from an individual personal perspective but also in terms of broader social Christian ethics.


Christian Life; Cross-Bearing; Happiness; Humility; Love; Meditation; Self-Denial; Truth


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