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KRJ 25(2013) 183-214
Calvin’s Mystical Thought in Comparison to
Joo, Jong Hun
Africa International University, Christian Worship
1 Introduction
In Reformed academic circle, mysticism or mystical theology has not been a
major research area. So, there are not many who attempted to interpret Calvin, a
forerunner of Reformed theology, in light of mystical theology. However,
although we could not regard Calvin as mystic, it is certain that there are
mystical aspects in Calvin’s thought. Considering the presence of God as a core
concept of mystical theology,1 it is very necessary and even significant to probe
the mystical thought in Calvin’s writings in order for Reformed tradition to keep
* 논문투고일 : 2013. 1. 17
논문수정일 : 2013. 3. 9
게재확정일 : 2013. 3. 16
1 A core theme of mystical theology is human understanding and experiencing the divine presence
or Trinitarian encounter. Cf. Mark McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and
Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).
practicing the divine presence in the liturgy as well as daily life. However, at the
same time, Calvin’s mystical thought is not like the traditional mysticism which
can be seen in typical mystics. This article does not attempt to argue that Calvin
was a mystic. Rather, with help of the methodology of mystical theology, it
strives to prove that Calvin’s thought could be interpreted as a strand of
mystical tradition. At the same time, this article tries to prove that Calvin’s
mystical thoughts are distinctive by arguing that his mystical thought is not like
the traditional speculative mysticism. In order to accomplish this goal, I will
first define the mysticism and mystical theology which is the foundation for
approaching to the mystical thought of Calvin. Second, I will explore the
mystical thought as found in Calvin’s writings: mainly in his Institutes of
Christian Religion, Commentaries, and Tracts. Third, I will argue the
distinctiveness of Calvin’s mystical thought in comparison with PseudoDionysius, a founder of mystical thought.
2 Finding Ways: Towards Definition of Words
As I indicated above, there are few who say that Calvin is a mystic.
According to Dennis Tamburello’s research, the tendency in the mystical
theology is to “deny any kind of positive relationship between Calvin and the
mystical tradition.”2 However, whether we can see Calvin as a mystic or not
depends on the definition of mysticism. The possibility of finding any mystical
elements in Calvin’s writings also depends on the meaning of mysticism. So I
2 Dennis Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 1.