Defending ‘Avertive’ Religion: Calvin on the Visio Dei and Moral Theology

Main Article Content

Alden C. McCray


Against claims that John Calvin repudiated the beatific vision and teleological virtue ethics, this article demonstrates the importance of the visio Dei by examining sections of Calvin’s exegesis and several important sermons. To explicate how such a teleology impacts the Christian’s relation to ‘lower goods’, it then explores Augustine’s theology of created being. Together these conversations contribute to an explanation of Calvin’s view of Christian moral life now through growth in virtue and in relation to the hope of seeing or contemplating God.

Article Details

How to Cite
McCray, Alden C. “Defending ‘Avertive’ Religion: Calvin on the Visio Dei and Moral Theology”. Reformed Theological Review 82, no. 1 (April 1, 2023): 25–47. Accessed June 6, 2023.


Allen, Michael. ‘Exodus 3 after the Hellenization Thesis.’ Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 2 (2009): 179-96. DOI:

———. Grounded in Heaven: Recentering Christian Life and Hope on God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.

Augustine, Saint. Homilies on the First Epistle of John. Translated by Boniface Ramsey. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Vol. III/14, Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008.

———. On Christian Teaching. Translated by R. P. H. Green. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Boersma, Hans. ‘Becoming Human in the Face of God: Gregory of Nyssa’s Unending Search for the Beatific Vision.’ International Journal of Systematic Theology 17, no. 2 (2015): 131-51. DOI:

———. Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.

Calvin, John. Commentaries of John Calvin, 46 vols. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844–1855).

———. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Library of Christian Classics. Edited by John T. McNeill. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

———. Ioannis Calvini opera quae super sunt omnia, ed. Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, and Eduardus Reuss, 59 vols. (Brunswick: Schwetschke, 1863-1900).

———. Sermons on the Beatitudes. Translated by Robert White. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2006.

———. Sermons on the Ten Commandments. Translated by Benjamin W. Farley. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980. Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2011.

Card-Hyatt, Carsten. ‘Christ Our Light: The Expectation of Seeing God in Calvin’s Theology of the Christian Life.’ Perichoresis 18, no. 1 (2020): 25–40. DOI:

Clair, Joseph. Discerning the Good in the Letters and Sermons of Augustine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. DOI:

Gavrilyuk, Paul L. The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. DOI:

Gregory, Brad S. The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012. DOI:

Gunton, Colin. ‘Augustine, the Trinity and the Theological Crisis of the West.’ Scottish Journal of Theology 43, no. 1 (1990): 33-58. DOI:

Holmes, Christopher R. J. ‘Last Things.’ In The Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology, edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, 609-20. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. DOI:

Irenæus. ‘Against Heresies.’ In The Apostolic Fathers–Justin Martyr–Irenaeus, edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899.

McDonald, Suzanne. ‘Beholding the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ: John Owen and the “Reforming” of the Beatific Vision.’ In The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Mark Jones, 141-58. Farnham & Burlington: Ashgate, 2012.

Middleton, J. Richard. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

Mosser, Carl. ‘An Exotic Flower? Calvin and the Patristic Doctrine of Deification.’ In Reformation Faith: Exegesis and Theology in the Protestant Reformations, edited by Michael Parsons, 38-56. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2014.

———. ‘The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification.’ Scottish Journal of Theology 55, no. 1 (2002): 36-57. DOI:

Ortiz, Jared. ‘You Made Us for Yourself’: Creation in St. Augustine’s Confessions. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016. DOI:

Ortlund, Gavin. Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. DOI:

Reed, Ryan. ‘“To Tend Directly toward God”: John Calvin on Humanity’s Telos.’ Journal of Reformed Theology 16, no. 1-2 (08 Apr. 2022): 71-89. DOI:

Schendel, Joshua. ‘The Reformed Orthodox and the Visio Dei.’ Reformed Theological Review 77, no. 1 (2018): 24-44.

Sytsma, David. ‘John Calvin and Virtue Ethics: Augustinian and Aristotelian Themes.’ Journal of Religious Ethics 48, no. 3 (2020): 519-56. DOI:

Tyra, Steven W. ‘“Neither the Spirit without the Flesh”: John Calvin’s Greek Doctrine of the Beatific Vision.’ Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 111, no. 1 (2020): 170-93. DOI:

Vos, Pieter. ‘Breakdown of the Teleological View of Life?: Investigating Law, Telos and Virtue in Calvinistic Ethics.’ Journal of Reformed Theology 9, no. 2 (2015): 131-47. DOI:

Williams, Michael. ‘A Restorational Alternative to Augustinian Verticalist Ethics.’ Pro Rege 20, no. 4 (1992): 11-24.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace : The Kuyper Lectures for 1981 Delivered at the Free University of Amsterdam. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

Wright, Tom. Surprised by Hope. London: SPCK, 2007.

———. Virtue Reborn: The Transformation of the Christian Mind. London: SPCK, 2010.

Zachman, Randall C. ‘Calvin as Analogical Theologian.’ Scottish Journal of Theology 51, no. 2 (1998): 162-87. DOI: