Maccovius on Whether We Will Fully Comprehend God

Jan Makowski (1588–1644), better known by the Latinized version of his name, Johannes Maccovius, addresses the question of whether we will fully comprehend God in the future life. Answering in the negative, he draws an important distinction between an “essential imperfection” of a creature (i.e., something which is only an imperfection when considered in comparison to God) and a “privative imperfection” (i.e., something properly belonging to a creature, but which it now lacks).

But whatever imperfection is essential to a creature (which is called an imperfection not in comparison with creatures, but with respect to God), is only a denial of the highest perfection, that is, it only means that the creature is not God. If this imperfection were removed, we, in consequence, would be gods; this would be absurd and blasphemous in both speech and thought. On the other hand, a privative imperfection, which denotes a certain lack in the creature when compared with itself, that is, when we consider that a creature is not as perfect as it could be while yet remaining a creature – every imperfection of this kind will be taken away. For example, whatever could perfect the body, in such a way that the body does not cease to be a body (for perfection does not destroy but adorns its subject), and whatever could perfect the soul, in such a way that the soul does not cease to be a soul, will be present in the future life.

And so, it remains to ask: does it pertain to the perfection of the soul that we comprehend the essence of God? I respond, it does not reasonably seem so, the reason for this being that the incomprehensible cannot be comprehended.

— Loci communes theologici (Franeker, 1650), 886

Ordinary Miracles

Protestant scholastic theology distinguished between several forms of God’s calling, referring to how God calls people to salvation in himself. One of the basic distinctions is between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ calling. God ordinarily calls people to himself through the preaching of the Word; less often, extraordinarily, God will call people to himself by other means. The Leiden theologians thought the way God calls us ‘extraordinarily’ is “unknown to us”, a mysterious inner calling of God’s Spirit (Synopsis purioris theologiae [1642], disp. 30.1.33, p. 368). The Lutheran theologian Quenstedt has other suggestions:

Calling is either ordinary or extraordinary; it is the ordinary which acts by means set up by God, that is, the external and visible ministry of the Word. It is extraordinary and special when someone, not by the ordinary ministry of the Word, but by miracles, ecstasies and other uncommon means, is called to the light of the gospel. (Theologia didactico-polemica [Leipzig, 1702], nota 2, p. 462).

As examples, he gives the Magi called by the star from the east to the newborn Jesus and the miracles shown to the people of Tyre and Sidon during Jesus’ ministry. It is these miracles, I want to argue, that belong not to God’s extraordinary and “most rare” calling (Theologia didactico-polemica, p. 462), but rather to his ordinary means of calling people to believe in him.

In the ministry of Christ, miracles regularly accompanied his teaching (Mt. 4:23, 9:35; Mk. 1:21-28; Jn. 2:23). When he commissioned his disciples to continue his teaching, Christ promised the same ‘accompanying’ of the Word by miraculous signs (Mt. 10:7-8; cf. Mk. 16:20). And this is what we see in the early history of the Church (Acts 3:6-26; 5:12-16, 13:5-12, etc.).

It seems, then, that there are two ordinary and accompanying means of God’s calling: preaching and miracles. The miracles confirm the teaching (e.g. Acts 13) and the teaching explains the miracles (e.g. Acts 3). These are both “means set up by God” (Quenstedt) to draw people to himself and show them where they ought to look for their salvation.