HERMAN BAVINCK: NO, INDIVIDUALISM AND AUTONOMY DID NOT COME FROM THE REFORMATION

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Herman Bavinck:

Rome charges the Reformation, day after day, of being the actual origin of subjectivism and individualism, of autonomy and anarchy, which now apply to all domains. And Immanuel Kant, who first formally articulated this autonomy, is therefore called the philosopher of Protestantism by Roman Catholics.

But this claim, although supported powerfully by the left, is nonetheless in direct conflict with history.

Every unbiased judge will recognize that the [act of] protesting in itself does not at all necessitate coming to a principle of autonomy.

The prophets lived in continual protest against their people.

Jesus protested in the name of the Law and the Prophets against the traditions of the elders, against human commandments.

Whoever would attribute all protest to autonomy and anarchy would give a carte blanche to lies and injustice and must condemn all reformation as a devilish work.

Everything comes to the question, In whose name and against what does the protest go forth?

And there is no doubt, then, that from the beginning the Reformation was a protest in the name of the word of Christ and his apostles against the deviations that had invaded the Roman church in the domain of life and doctrine. It was principally different from humanism, building a dam against the unbelief that continued to reach out further from Italy, and later, just as Rome [did], it protested against the Aufklärung[“Enlightenment”] itself. This Aufklärung, which is not stronger and which won no larger a following in Protestant countries than it did among Roman peoples, is not to be explained from the Reformation but rather from an abandonment of the principles of the Reformation.

Kant is, therefore, not to be mentioned in the same breath as Luther. They each moved in entirely different circles of thought. For Kant there is nearly nothing left of the great truths of Christianity, wherein Luther found his power and peace—as far as content, Kant’s faith consisted in the trilogy of rationalism. Kant was the philosopher not of the Protestantism of the Reformation but of the Aufklärung; he was a kindred spirit not of Luther but of Rousseau.

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—Herman Bavinck, Christian Worldview, edited and translated by Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, Cory C. Brock (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019).

[Note that Crossway is publishing this book in English for the first time. It is the key neo-Calvinist text on Christian worldview written by the premiere neo-Calvinist dogmatician, originally delivers as Bavinck’s 1904 rector’s address at the Free University of Amsterdam, responding to the challenges of modernity, including the loss of unity of the self, increasing political tension, the rise of scientism, the reduction of humanity to the merely physical, and more.]

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