In the early 17th century, an important debate in the Reformed Church in the Dutch Republic was that between the Reformed and the Remonstrants. The national synod of Dort resolved this debate with a rejection of the Remonstrants’ ideas. In this discussion, one of the main issues was the relationship between election by God and the free will of men. To explain why not everybody who receives God’s call – in the Gospel or through nature – responds to it by believing in Christ and repentance, the Canons of Dort distinguished between the external preaching of the Gospel and the internal illumination by God. Those who only receive the external Word, are not able to believe the Gospel due to their sinfull nature. On the other hand, the combination of the preaching and the internal illumination and act of God results in true belief in God.
This difference between internal illumination or internal calling and the external preaching or the external call is the topic of this thesis. To understand the difference between the external and internal calling correctly from a 21st century viewpoint, we need to know what theologians in the 17th century considered to be internal calling and external calling and how they saw the relationship between those two. This is even more interesting, as we realize that the distinction between internal and external is at the center of the Cartesian philosophy of subjectivity, the philosophy that became influential in the late 17th century. Therefore, this thesis aims to answer the question: what is meant by external and internal and how do these terms relate in the Reformed theology in the 17th century?
In this thesis, the investigation is focused on one key representative of the late 17th century theology – the period in which the Cartesian influence became important. This representative is Petrus van Mastricht, a Reformed theologian with a fairly moderate position in the Reformed church, who however was involved in a lively debate with Cartesians. The main question of this thesis is divided in four subquestions:
1. What is the historical context of Petrus van Mastricht, in particular related to the Cartesian debate?
2. How does Van Mastricht describe internal and external calling and their relationship?
3. How does Van Mastrichts description relate to his key sources for this terminology?
4. Could an effect of the Cartesianism on Van Mastricht be established, with regard to his description of internal and external calling?
With regard to Van Mastricht, the investigation focuses on his main dogmatic work, the Theoretico-practica theologia and also his main polemic book against the Cartesians, the Novitatum cartesianum gangraena, is included. As four important sources of the Theoretico-practica theologia, the following works are taken into account: the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (1225? – 1274), the Leiden Synopsis purioris theologiae (1625), the Medulla of William Ames (1576-1633) and the Disputationes selectae of Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676). Besides that, I also compare Van Mastricht with a contemporary and key Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin (1623-1687).
Question 1: Historical context of Petrus van Mastricht
Van Mastricht was a theologian with a good international education and reputation. He became professor in theology, first in Germany and later in Utrecht, where he was the successor of Voetius. As a representative of the Reformed tradition, he was fairly moderate, but also fiercely debating with Cartesian theologians. In this respect, Van Mastricht’s Gangraena was one of the main writings against the Cartesians in this period.
Question 2: The relationship between external and internal calling
Van Mastricht defines external calling as the call that is received by the external senses, the sense of hearing and the intellect. The internal call is received by the soul, which Van Mastricht distinguishes from intellect and will. External and internal calling have the same message and cause, only the way through which they operate is different. In fact, it is only one call, with an internal and an external component. According to Van Mastricht, calling as such does not result in faith. Calling as such is just a moral cause, which recommends somebody what would be good, but is not a cause sufficient for faith. Here, an internal, physical cause is needed: the internal renewal of the heart by the regeneration. This regeneration changes the will, and causes that the intellect and will become faithful. In this respect, the regeneration is needed before someone can actually respond in faith to the God’s call.
Question 3: Van Mastricht’s relationship to his sources
Van Mastricht’s theology of calling is in line with mainstream Medieval and Reformed theology, which also asserts that internal and external calling cooperate, but that an internal act of God is needed for faith. Van Mastricht’s position is in particular aligned with those of Aquinas, Voetius and Polyander (1568-1646). Aquinas actually uses the same subdivisions in his terminology as Van Mastricht, although he grants the will a somewhat more important role. In comparison with Polyander, Van Mastricht has a somewhat different distinction between calling and regeneration. One of the Leiden Synopsis authors, Polyander, considers the internal act of God still to be part of calling, while Van Mastricht defines that a regeneration. Nevertheless, the distinction between internal and external calling (including a part of regeneration for Van Mastricht) is fairly similar. On the other hand, Rivetus (1572-1651) uses in the same Synopsis a more pronounced distinction between external and internal calling. For Rivetus, the difference between external and internal calling is perfectly in line with respectively ineffective and effective calling. Ames has the same opinion: only the elect receive the internal, effective calling. This position differs from Van Mastricht, who states the internal and external usually cooperate and that also those who do not receive faith can have received the inward call.
Question 4: Cartesian influence
The comparison with his sources and also with Turretin shows that Van Mastricht’s description of external an internal calling is not unique, but rather in line with an important stream in Reformed thought. On the other hand, there could be a – rather small – Cartesian influence, as Van Mastricht does elaborate on the specific internal human ‘faculties’ in more detail than Turretin or any of his sources (as far as considered in this study). In this respect, in particular the difference with Turretin is striking, as Turretin does not like to talk about internal human ‘faculties’ in relationship to the external calling, as he reserves any real internal effect of calling for the elect only. Moreover, Van Mastricht considers the soul as perceptive, which seems to be a Cartesian opinion, while Turrettini does explicitly argue that the soul cannot be perceptive. As Van Mastricht deals in his Gangraena specifically with these ‘faculties’ in his debate with Cartesians, it could be that this debate has urged him to be more precise. This could be an indication of Cartesian influence on his thinking about internal and external calling.
This study on the subject of internal and external calling in the 17th century Reformed theology shows that the distinction between internal and external has not always the same meaning. Therefore, we have to be careful in interpreting these terms. In this respect, interpreting internal calling as effective calling and external calling as ineffective is not a correct interpretation of this distinction. This interpretation is valid for some theologians, such as Turretin and Ames, but not for others, such as Van Mastricht and Voetius.||