Original Research

Calvin’s human being: Intellect and will in Calvin

Willem van Vlastuin
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 57, No 1 | a2890 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v57i1.2890 | © 2023 Willem van Vlastuin | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 July 2022 | Published: 13 January 2023

About the author(s)

Willem van Vlastuin, Department of Beliefs and Practices, Faculty of Religion and Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and, Department of Historical Theology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


In Christian theological history, reflecting on the relationship between intellect and the will is an ongoing process. Roughly speaking, in Medieval Christianity, two concepts were employed to clarify the relationship between intellect and the will: intellectualism defended the primary role of the intellect, and voluntarism promoted the human will as decisive. These were represented respectively by Aquinas and Duns Scotus. After presenting these concepts as interpretive frameworks, the author examines Calvin. It appears that Calvin’s metaphysical structure of the human being can be characterised as intellectualistic. Richard Muller agrees with this, but he suggests that Calvin’s soteriology was influenced by voluntarism. From the fiducial character of faith, he argues the importance of the will in the fall from grace and suggests that Calvin placed himself in the voluntaristic tradition of Scotus. In this article, Muller’s arguments are investigated and evaluated, and the conclusion is drawn that there is no ground for soteriological voluntarism in Calvin. This conclusion led the author to question whether intellectualism can be spoken of in Calvin’s soteriology. His research into this question is answered affirmatively, leading to the conclusion that Calvin is best understood from an intellectualistic point of view in both his metaphysics and his soteriology.

Contribution: Firstly, this article contributes to a historical-theological discussion of the relationship of will and reason in Calvin. Secondly, this discussion is important for a reformed anthropology. Thirdly, this historical insight is important for contemporary anthropological reflection, for example in relation to neuroscience.


intellect; will; voluntarism; intellectualism; soteriology


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