Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Privileging the Ear

In his book Reformed Theology and Visual Culture, William Dyrness makes some interesting observations about Calvin which echo some of the points I made in my earlier blog post 'Are Calvinists Also Among the Gnostics?' In commenting on a quote from Calvin's Theological Treatises where the reformer noted that "it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his word be received through the organs of the body," Dyrness writes,

No bodily organ is necessary, Calvin wants to claim, but of course some organ must be used. For apart from actual hearing (in the actual performance of worship), one could never receive the truth of the preached word with or without a believing heart. So in fact the ear is privileged over the eye (the function of which has been reduced to a cipher for comprehension). And it is the word that becomes especially joined to the work of the Holy Spirit. But one wonders: why should the ear be any less capable of mishearing or falling for obstinate superstition than the eye? Or contrariwise, if faith involves a special kind of perception, why must the Holy Spirit be joined only to the aural word of preaching and not to some parallel word made flesh (visible)? After all in the earlier history of the Church such a relationship found ample support in the biblical doctrines of creation and incarnation. One could argue of course that Calvin, along with the other reformers, is recovering an emphasis that is biblical and which results from his own careful rereading of the texts. But clearly his own reactions to medieval practices, which we have reviewed, provided an important component of the context in which he did his exegesis.
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