Calvin's Warning to All Regarding Trinitarian Distinctions

In a chapter on the Trinity in the Institutes of Christian Religion, Calvin provides some sage words to consider before delving into the distinctions and unity of the three persons. The section entitled “The ground of all heresy: a warning to all” is exactly that: a warning to all of his readers (transtemporal) to avoid biting off more than they can chew. He writes:

Satan, in order to tear our faith from its very roots, has always been instigating great battles, partly concerning the divine essence of the Son and the Spirit, partly concerning the distinction of the persons … Here, indeed, if anywhere in the secret mysteries of Scripture, we ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure, a mind as yet unable to establish for certain the nature of the sun’s body, though men’s eyes daily gaze upon it? Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God’s essence when it cannot even get to its own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself … But if some distinction does exist in the one divinity of Father, Son, and Spirit—something hard to grasp—and occasions to certain minds more difficulty and trouble than is expedient, let it be remembered that men’s minds, when they indulge their curiosity, enter into a labyrinth.[1]


  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 145–6 emphasis added.  ↩