Month: February 2018

The Moral Argument

The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (born April 22, 1724) is perhaps the most well-known philosopher of the modern era. Among his many works was a book titled Critique of Pure Reason, which he wrote in 1781. The work is an analysis of purely theoretical arguments, or proofs, for metaphysics or for the existence of God. Two proofs in particular receive significant attention in the work: the cosmological and teleological arguments. Kant attempts to dismantle these arguments, but in a later work he ends up contributing a proof of his own.

The cosmological argument has to do with the cosmos—the world—and the law of cause and effect. The law of cause and effect is that for every effect there is an equal or greater cause. The cosmos is an effect, so there must be a cause behind it. The existence of the world points beyond itself to a source, that is, a Creator. Kant’s response was to say that we cannot extrapolate from our experience with cause and effect to the realm of metaphysics, the realm beyond our physical experience. In other words, we cannot use the law of cause and effect to prove the existence of God.

Kant also attempted to dismantle the teleological argument. The teleological argument builds upon the cosmological argument. Teleological is rooted in the Greek word telos, which means “end,” referring to a design or purpose. The teleological argument states that the world reveals and reflects significant and complex design and therefore points to an intelligent designer.

So, Kant attempted to dismantle the cosmological and teleological arguments, but despite his critique, these arguments didn’t go away. They are still used today, and they have a place in pointing us beyond this world and pointing to a Creator. But Kant sought to make a different argument for metaphysics and the existence of God.

In 1788, he published his second critique, the Critique of Practical Reason. The first chapter contains Kant’s moral argument for the existence of God. The argument is based on what Kant called “the categorical imperative,” which he stated like this: Act in such a way that your action can become a universal law. In other words, Kant believed that we are all bound and obligated by morality. In fact, Kant went on to say that the proof that God exists “is the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”

In the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis used the moral argument for the existence of God in Mere Christianity. He begins by saying that there is a universal moral law, and at one point he writes: “There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails.” Perhaps saying that there is a universal moral law prompted Lewis to ask, What lies behind the law? The answer is that behind the law is a Lawgiver. We cannot get rid of the moral law, the “oughtness” that we all have universally, and that moral law points beyond the existence of this world and the phenomena of experience to God.


Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812. The seminary’s first building, Alexander Hall, was established in 1815. The plaque commemorating its establishment reads, “Alexander Hall, cornerstone laid on September 26, 1815. Named to honor the Reverend Archibald Alexander. First Professor of the Seminary (1812–1851). This is the first structure built for use as a seminary by the Presbyterian Church.” While Alexander Hall was dedicated to Archibald Alexander, there were actually three men who founded Princeton Theological Seminary: Alexander, Ashbel Green, and Samuel Miller.

Ashbel Green was born in 1762. After fighting in the Revolutionary War, he studied under John Witherspoon, who was president of Princeton University and a Presbyterian minister. Witherspoon was also the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence. From 1812 to 1822, Green served as president of Princeton University.

In 1805, Green was the first to formally urge the Presbyterian general assembly to establish a seminary, marking the beginnings of Princeton Theological Seminary. He would serve as a professor there and also as a pastor. He died May 19, 1848.

Samuel Miller was born in 1762 in Dover, Del. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, and from 1839 to 1849, he served as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at Princeton Theological Seminary. He died January 7, 1850.

Archibald Alexander was born on April 17, 1772, in Lexington, Va. He was a student, a pastor, and a missionary until 1797, when he became president of Hampden–Sydney College. He served in that post from 1797 to 1806. In 1807, he moved to Philadelphia, where he served as pastor of Pine Street Church until 1812. He was appointed the first professor at Princeton, and he served in that capacity from 1812 to 1851. He died October 22, 1851.

Archibald Alexander, Ashbel Green, and Samuel Miller together founded Princeton Seminary. They acted in response to a report brought to the Presbyterian church’s general assembly in 1810. The report stated that there were “no fewer than four hundred vacant congregations within our bounds.” It was with this urgent need for pastors in mind that Alexander, Green, and Miller formed Princeton Theological Seminary with the goal of supplying “learned and pious ministers for the pulpit ministry for the church.”


In the fourth century, there was a Christian Roman woman who was very significant in her lifetime. She was named Macrina. Now, we have to make a distinction. This woman is known as Macrina the Younger to distinguish her from her grandmother, Macrina the Elder. They were very wealthy, aristocratic Romans. And they were devoted Christians, very committed to the church and very committed to the Christian faith. Macrina the Younger was born in 330, but her grandmother—a very godly woman—lived before the reign of Constantine, at a time when Rome was persecuting the church. So, this was a family that experienced persecution, and then, all through Macrina the Younger’s lifetime, grew up in that post-persecution Constantinian Roman world. Macrina is interesting in her own right, but she is also interesting because of her brothers.

Macrina came from a very large family. There seems to be a consensus that there were ten children in the family, of which she was the oldest. When she was a young lady, she was betrothed to be married, but her fiancé died. She never fell in love again and never sought marriage again. She felt that her betrothal was almost a marriage, and so she considered herself to be still married. At various times, she would say that her husband was on a journey far away from her and she was making her way to him. Consequently, she committed her life to service and turned the family’s large estate into a monastery and a convent.

So, we have her contribution in her own right, but what’s also interesting is her brothers. She had two brothers who were very significant. One of them was Basil, who went on to be bishop of Caesarea, and the other brother was Gregory. There are a lot of Gregories in the early church, but this one is Gregory of Nyssa. He was a bishop too. Basil and Gregory are two of the three theologians known as the Three Cappadocians.

Gregory wrote of Macrina and her death. He wrote as if she were sharing her testimony at her death. He reports that she said:

You, God, did break the flaming sword and did restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with you and implored your mercy. Remember me too in your kingdom because I too was crucified with you, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of thee, and of thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from the elect, nor let the slander stand against me in the way, nor let my sin be found before thine eyes. If in anything I have sinned in word, or deed, or thought, or have been led astray by the weakness of our nature.

She then pleaded for God’s mercy.

I find that first line fascinating: “You did break the flaming sword.” Of course, this is a reference to the angel who is keeping us from Paradise after Adam and Eve fell and were expelled from the garden. But God, through what Christ has done, has broken that flaming sword and has restored us to Paradise.

Peter Lombard

Last week on Five Minutes in Church History we looked at the Abbey at St. Victor and I mentioned one of the famous Medieval figures who studied there, Peter Lombard. Well, on this week we’ll just focus on Peter Lombard. He’s not to be confused with the Italian sculptor Pietro Lombardo. Pietro, he designed, among many other things, the tomb of Dante. This Peter Lombard was Italian just like Pietro, but he was not a sculptor. Instead, he was a Theologian. And when he started his life out in Italy he ended up in Paris. After his early studies, Peter Lombard taught at the Cathedral School at Notre Dame and also, as we learned, he spent some time at the Abbey at the School at St. Victor. He was born in 1095 and he died in 1160. From 1155 to 1158, just shortly before his death, he wrote his magnum opus, the Four Books of Sentences. These are indeed four books. The first one he entitled The Trinity, the second he titled The Creation in Sin, the third is The Incarnation and the Virtues, and the fourth is The Sacraments and the Four Last Things.

These were instantly well received and throughout the Medieval Ages there were many commentaries written on them by leading lights including the leading light, Thomas Aquinas. By 1222, the fourth Lateran Council declared them mandatory for the curriculum. And it was just a few years after that that one of the professors at the University of Paris, Alexander of Hales used Lombard instead of the Bible. He replaced the Bible with Lombard as the textbook and many followed suit. That was true right on down to Luther’s day. When Luther was working through his doctorate in Theology, and this was actually his second doctorate, he had his first doctorate in Jurisprudence and then worked his way through a Bachelors, and Masters, and a Doctorate in Biblical Studies and Theology. One of his qualifying exams concerned Peter Lombard’s The Sentences. Luther had to master it and be able to recite it in order to qualify for his doctorate. And after he received that in the Fall of 1509, he was at Erfurt and tasked with his first assignment to lecture through Theology. And this was his textbook. And Luther’s personal volume of Lombard’s Sentences survives down to this day. The volume is full of lengthy marginal notes and we assume these notes were the basis of his lectures. Well, while Luther had to study it, and while he lectured from it, very quickly Luther is going to come to disagree with it.

In one of the books – book four on the Sacraments – Peter Lombard lays out for us, the church at that time, the Roman Catholic Church’s view on the Sacraments. And in chapter one he tells us, first of all, the number of the Sacraments. And so, as I read them, keep track. He says, “Now let us approach the sacraments of the new law which are Baptism, Confirmation, the Bread of Blessing (that is, the Eucharist), Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Marriage.” Now, that’s seven. In the Protestant world we’re used to two. They are, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here’s seven. What’s also telling is not just the number, but the understanding of the Sacraments. And a little bit later in the book, what Peter Lombard tells us is that the Sacraments are a second plank after the shipwreck of Adam’s Fall. The first plank is Baptism. And this is what Lombard said, “the first plank is Baptism whereby the old man is put off and the new man put on. And the second plank is Penance by which we raise ourselves again after a fall.” His view is that at Baptism we are made new creatures through the Sacrament of Baptism. And then, as we live our lives and we sin, those are like spots on our new garments, as it were. So, along comes the Sacrament of Penance to remove those spots form our garments.

Well, as Luther was looking at Peter Lombard, then he started looking at Augustine, and then he started looking at Scripture and he began to see some discontinuity between what he had learned from Peter Lombard and what he had learned in the Scriptures. And one of the first books Luther writes is the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and he challenges head-on Lombard’s view of the Sacraments.