Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance  for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

Calvin I, 56, 57, 66, 83

NC II, 560

Calvinistic I, 125, 491

NC I, 524, ft. 1


For a more detailed discussion of the relation of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy to Calvinism, see my article “Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy,” (2006), especially Appendix A: Is Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy Calvinistic? 

Dooyeweerd refers to his philosophy as Calvinistic. Even in 1936, he says that his philosophy must not be misunderstood as limited to the exclusive thought world of a small group of Calvinists (WdW I, 490). In later years he explicitly rejected the label ‘Calvinistic’, wanting to take a more ecumenical approach. In a 1956 article he said that he did not want his philosophy to be associated with a theological system that gave to Calvin an authority that a human should not deserve. The term ‘Calvinism,’ already “dangerous in itself,” can lead to a label for a definite group or sect (Verburg 344). He even tried to change the name of the Calvinistic Association for Philosophy [Vereniging voor Calvinistische Wijsbegeerte]. He was unsuccessful in that attempt.

Dooyeweerd’s opposition to the term ‘Calvinistic’ also appears in the New Critique:

Therefore, I regret the fact that the philosophical association, which was formed in Holland [after the appearance of the Dutch edition of this work], chose the name “The Association for Calvinistic Philosophy.” But I will give due allowance for the fact that I, myself, in an earlier stage of my development, called my philosophy “Calvinistic.” (NC I, 524 ft. 1).

On January 2, 1964, Dooyeweerd gave an address to that Association. The subject of the gathering was “Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a Changing World”  [“Centrum en omtrek van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee in een veranderende wereld”]. Dooyeweerd emphasized the importance of ecumenism. He said,

You may have your own convictions in this area, but I am convinced that at this time we need to bring forward in an increasingly strong way the Biblical-ecumenical motive of our actions and our thoughts, and that we must no longer be an obstacle to those persons who, although they are attracted to our ideas, yet say, “Yes, but we could never do that, we could not come within the narrow circle of those Calvinists; that is not possible.” [Verburg 381, my translation].

Vollenhoven opposed this plea for ecumenism. He thought that the Gereformeerde Church should first heal its own divisions before reaching out to anyone else. It seems to me that, although Vollenhoven was correct in hoping to heal internal divisions, this was a missed opportunity to open up Dooyeweerd’s philosophy to the outside world. It has remained far too much in the “narrow circle” of Calvinism.

But how closely connected with Calvinism is Dooyeweerd’s philosophy? The theologian Valentin Hepp sharply criticized the work of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven as not being in the Reformed tradition. In 1936, Hepp published a series of brochures entitled Dreigende Deformatie [Threatening Deformation]. This caused a long investigation of both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven by the theological faculty at the Free University. The investigation did not end until after World War II; the controversy was not really resolved. It ended because there was a change of staff on the theological faculty. Verburg says that the controversy with Schilder also acted as a lightning rod to deflect some of Hepp’s criticism (Verburg 203).

Hepp said that Dooyeweerd was challenging the traditional Calvinistic doctrines of the place of theology, the dualism of body and soul, and the idea of substance as set out in some Reformed Confessions. The Idea of the tendency towards the Origin would stand in the way of truly progressive theology. He thought that the new philosophy was bringing back anthropomorphisms that the church had rejected as heresy, and that there was a wrong understanding of the mediating of creation. Hepp opposed the law-Idea, the way the boundary with God was seen, the Idea of the subject, and he also opposed Dooyeweerd’s understanding of the image of God. Hepp said that whenever they opposed traditional Calvinistic thoughts they did not say so openly, but blamed immanence philosophy. Hepp especially opposed the Idea of the supratemporal heart, which he called the “heart-theory,” and which he said was completely untenable.(Verburg 204-218).

Hepp was initially even more critical of Vollenhoven.  Of 79 passages that Hepp initially complained of, 78 were out of Vollenhoven’s work! Vollenhoven not only denied a dualism of body and soul but denied that anything survived death until the resurrection. Dooyeweerd at least believed in the continuance of the supratemporal heart after death.

As an aside, it is interesting that Hepp found some passages of Dooyeweerd so difficult that he tried translating them from Dutch into German in order to better understand them (Verburg, 215). It is also interesting that one of his accusations was that the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy was a secret society.

Both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven submitted extended replies to these accusations. See their Responses to the Curators of the Vrije Universiteit. Dooyeweerd’s response is a 35 page closely spaced typed letter. He attached a list of citations from Kuyper to show agreement with his thought. He says that his colleagues Rutgers and Woltjer have kept themselves out of this debate, and in the theological faculty, Aalders and Waterink differ in their reasons but have generally taken a stance opposing the point of departure of the WdW.

An examination of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy leaves no doubt that he was in fact challenging traditional Calvinistic ideas. Dooyeweerd’s response that he was not attacking theology, but only showing its philosophical foundations (Verburg 221), is hardly an appropriate response. For his philosophical criticism must lead to a radical revisioning of theology. And with respect to his denial of “substance,” he said that the Dutch Reformed Confessions did not include the idea, and that he was not bound by non-Dutch Confessions like the Westminster Confession (which does speak about substance).

It seems to me that Hepp’s criticisms of Dooyeweerd have more validity than has been admitted by adherents of Dooyeweerd. As Dooyeweerd himself remarked, “The term ‘Calvinistic’ is not Biblical.” (Verburg, 292, discussion of January 2, 1964). I prefer Dooyeweerd’s philosophy to the type of Calvinism that Hepp wanted to defend. Nevertheless, let us look at some of the ways that Dooyeweerd appealed to Calvin and to Kuyper’s neo-Calvinism.

(1) Dooyeweerd says that he is not following the historical Calvin so much as the Calvinism that had since been worked out in neo-Calvinism of Kuyper (“De staatkundige tegenstelling tusschen Christelijk-Historische en Antirevolutionaire partij,” February, 1923; cited by Verburg, 63). It was not for nothing that Kuyper named his life and world view “neo-Calvinism” (Verburg 230). (The reference is to A. Kuyper, Souvereiniteit in eigen kring, 3e druk (Kampen, 1930). This was his lecture given at the opening of the Vrije Universiteit. But Dooyeweerd says that even Kuyper had many remnants of scholasticism. There were only a few works by Kuyper that Dooyeweerd really appreciated. He mentions Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, the above-mentioned address on sphere sovereignty, and works by Kuyper relating to “contemplation of life and of a meditative nature” [van levenbeschouwelijke en meditatieve aard] (See Herman Dooyeweerd, “Na vijf en dertig jaren,”Philosophia Reformata 36 (1971), 1-10, at 6. The last category of works of a contemplative and meditative nature must include Kuyper’s To Be Near Unto God (New York: Macmillan, 1925). Originally published as Nabij God te Zijn (Kampen: Kok, 1908). This was written by Kuyper late in his life, after he had developed his ideas of sphere sovereignty. Although Dooyeweerd criticized some of Kuyper’s ideas in his article “Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer,” he did not criticize these mystical ideas. On the contrary, Dooyeweerd continued to emphasize the importance of Kuyper’s rediscovery of the importance of the supratemporal heart. See “Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer,”Philosophia Reformata 4 (1939), 193-232, at 208-211. And here we must remember that Kuyper read and appreciated Franz von Baader.

(2) Knowledge of God and knowledge of Self. Dooyeweerd refers to Calvin’s statement about this at NC I, 196, and he repeats this reference elsewhere:

The religious meaning of the created world binds the true knowledge of the cosmos to true self-knowledge, and the latter to the true knowledge of God. This view has been explained in an unsurpassable and pregnant way in the first chapter of the first book of Calvin’s Institutio. It is the only purely Biblical view and the alpha and omega of any truly Christian epistemology. […] We cannot truthfully know the cosmos outside of the true knowledge of God. But like all human experience in this earthly dispensation, our knowledge of God, although directed to the absolute Truth is also restricted and relativized by (but not at all to) our temporal cosmic existence. (NC II, 560).

But is Dooyeweerd’s idea of the selfhood found in Calvin? The passage he refers to from Calvin says,

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. (Institutes Chapter I)

The reference by Calvin to God in which one “lives and moves” is an obvious reference to Paul’s words in Acts 17:28. It may provide the basis for a nondualistic interpretation of our relationship with God. But has Calvin traditionally been interpreted that way? Is Calvinism not a much more dualistic view of our relation with God? And can Dooyeweerd’s idea of the selfhood as the supratemporal heart be found in Calvin? And Dooyeweerd’s idea of the selfhood is that of the supratemporal heart. Is this in Calvin?

(3) The supratemporal heart.

Dooyeweerd appeals to Kuyper for this. In his 1939 article “Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer,”Philosophia Reformata, p. 193-232, he cites (at p. 211) Kuyper’s 1898 Stone Lectures, where Kuyper refers to “that point in our consciousness in which our life is still undivided and lies comprehended in its unity, not in the spreading vines but in the root from which the vines spring.” (Verburg 236)

Josef Bohatec, a Calvin scholar who was also a close friend of Dooyeweerd, wrote that he could not find in Calvin any idea of the heart as meaning the whole of human Existenz (Verburg, 191). Hepp also said that the idea of the heart as a supratemporal root of life could not be found in Calvin, and that it showed more a neo-Kantian viewpoint (Verburg 216). Hepp is correct that the idea is not Calvinistic. But neither is it neo-Kantian. It is theosophical, a tradition that criticized Kant.

(4) God as law-giver.

In his 1923 article, “De leer der rechtssoevereiniteit en die der staatssoevereiniteit in haar consequenties voor de verhouding van Overheid en onderdanen,” Dooyeweerd refers to Calvinism’s emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God over the whole terrain of his creation. Between God and creation he sets [stelt] the law as limiting concept, above which human reason cannot go.

In the WdW he repeats that God is the sole lawgiver (I, 56).

But it is not necessary to be Calvinistic to put forward the law-Idea. It is found in Franz von Baader, who was Catholic. And this very quotation from 1923 has a lot of similarity with Baader in the contrast it makes between autonomy (“door de rede zelve gesteld”) and the placing (“stelling”) of the law by God. His earlier article in February of 1923 makes a similar comparison between an autonomous “stellen” and being placed “gesteld” in objective meaning by a heteronomous law. The emphasis on heteronomy over autonomy, and a similar play on words between law [Gesetz] and being placed [Gesetztsein] are key ideas of Baader.

(5) The sovereignty of God.

Traditional Calvinistic theology has interpreted the sovereignty of God in terms of causality. Dooyeweerd understands the meaning of sovereignty in a central sense, and says we cannot reason from temporal causality. God’s sovereignty or ‘Providence’ is not limited to the law-side of reality. However, the factual side of Providence is hidden from human knowledge (NC I, 174).

For human thought it is absolutely impossible to form a defined concept of causality in the supertemporal fulness of meaning or in the sense of God’s creative act (NC II, 41).

Dooyeweerd also views predestination in terms of the relation between root and temporal expression and unfolding from that root. Peter Steen points out (p. 171) that Dooyeweerd links predestination to the unfolding [ontsluiting] of the anticipatory spheres. He quotes from Dooyeweerd’s article “Het juridisch causaliteitsprobleem in it licht der wetsidee,”Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde 2 (1928) 21-124, at 61:

De “ontsluiting der anticipatiesferen,” als actieve “door-geestelijking” van de wetskringen, is een religieus thema in de Calvinistische levens- en wereldbeschouwing, een thema, dat zijn hoogste spanning verkrijjgt door de onmetelijke kracht der in universeelen zin genomen allesbeheerschende praedestinatiegedachte. Overal, in alle wetskringen moet de religieuze zin doordringen en den zin der wetsgedachte “voleindigen,” al wordt in deze zondige bedeeling dit ideaal nimmer vervuld, tenzij dan door Christus!

[The “unfolding of the anticipatory spheres,” as an active “in-spiration” [lit. “spiritualizing-through”] of the law-spheres, is a religious theme in the Calvinistic life and worldview, a theme that reaches its highest tension through the immeasurable power of the all-ruling idea of predestination, taken in its universal meaning. Religious meaning must penetrate everywhere, in all law-spheres, and it must “complete” the meaning of the law-idea, although in this sinful dispensation this ideal is never fulfilled, except through Christ!

And at p. 113 Dooyeweerd says,

De “volle realiteit” als kosmische subjectiviteitseenheid bouwt zich op in den organischen samenhang der subjectsfuncties, gelijk alle wetskringen individueel slechts straalbrekingen zijn van Gods wereldplan.

[The “full reality” as cosmic unity of subjectivity constructs itself in the organic coherence of the subject functions, just as all law-spheres are individually only refractions of God’s world plan.]

Thus, Dooyeweerd’s idea of predestination and God’s sovereignty is closely linked to the idea of temporal refraction from out of the supratemporal totality. God’s sovereignty is in that religious root. And it is because of this that the individual temporal refractions have sphere sovereignty. Dooyeweerd specifically links predestination to the temporal refraction in cosmic time. In his discussion of cosmic time as the prism, he says,

The coherence of meaning of the law spheres is an order of cosmic time. In our religious a priori we refer this back to divine predestination in the broadest sense of plan for the world. It is a law-order of a horizontal nature that spans particularized meaning, in contrast to the vertical, which comes to expression in particularized meaning by sovereignty in its own sphere. (I, 70; not in NC)

(6) The place of theology

Dooyeweerd emphatically asserts that philosophy does not take its guidance from theology. In this he followed Baader. Kuyper had still placed theology in a preeminent position.

(7) The immediacy of our relationship to God

Kuyper refers to our immediate relation to the Eternal. It is interesting that he relates the doctrine of predestination to our ability to have this direct and immediate communion with God:

God enters into immediate fellowship with the creature, as God the Holy Spirit. This is even the heart and kernel of the Calvinistic confession of predestination. There is communion with God, but only in entire accord with his counsel of peace from all eternity. Thus there is no grace but such as comes to us immediately from God. At every moment of our existence, our entire spiritual life rests in God Himself. The “Deo Soli Gloria” was not the starting-point but the result, and predestination was inexorably maintained, not for the sake of separating man from man, nor in the interest of personal pride, but in order to guarantee from eternity to eternity, to our inner self, a direct and immediate communion with the Living God. (“Calvinism as a Life System,” 21).


For our relation to God: an immediate fellowship of man with the Eternal, independently of priest or church (Ibid, 31).


If Calvinism places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man (Ibid, 49)

Kuyper compares Calvinism to Catholic and Lutheran conceptions of experience. He says,

And only in churches which take their stand in Calvinism, do we find that spiritual independence which enables the believer to oppose, if need be, and for God’s sake, even the most powerful office-bearer in his church. Only he who personally stands before God on his own account, and enjoys an uninterrupted communion with God, can properly display the glorious wings of liberty. (“Calvinism and Religion,” 49)

Dooyeweerd certainly agrees with this idea of immediacy in the religious knowledge that we have in our heart.

(8) Sphere sovereignty

Although Calvin certainly spoke of the sovereignty of God, it is difficult to find a support for sphere sovereignty in Calvin.

The idea of sphere sovereignty is of course found in Kuyper. But Kuyper was influenced by Baader, and the idea certainly is found in Baader.

Largely as a response to the attacks by Hepp, Dooyeweerd published an article showing that he did stand in the line of Kuyper’s thought. This is his article, “Wat de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee aan Kuyper te danken heeft,” (De Reformatie Oct 29/37 pp. 63-65). But even this article criticized certain ideas of Kuyper. Dooyeweerd reported that he was accused of having cut Kuyper in half, and of only having used from Kuyper what he found necessary for his own work (Verburg, 232). Two years later, Dooyeweerd followed this article with another one where he was critical of Kuyper, “Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer.” And in 1947, Dooyeweerd wrote the article: “Calvijn als Bouwer” in Polemios 2/22 August 23/1947. 11 He refers in that article to the prism, and says that both Calvin and Paul spoke of it in the diversity of ordinances for life (“veelheid van levensordinantiën”). I don’t believe that this means that the prism symbol itself is to be found in Calvin.

In some ways Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, like that of Baader, has affinities to orthodox theology. He may have obtained this affinity to orthodox sources from Woltjer, one of his instructors. Klapwijk says [in “Calvin on Non-Christian Philosophy”] that Vollenhoven initially saw Kuyper as dualistic, and Woltjer as more  monistic. In contrast to Kuyper, Geesink and Woltjer’s basic assumption was that “man totally is and ought to be image of God.” But Klapwijk says that in his last few years, Vollenhoven made remarks “on more than one occasion that he sides with Gregory of Nazianzus and Woltjer.” Dooyeweerd’s similarities to orthodox thought are especially evident in his hints at the importance of Sonship, and of fulfillment. It seems to me that the orthodox Idea of epektasis expresses much of what Dooyeweerd means.

(9) Common grace. For Dooyeweerd, there is no separation of creation law from salvation. Common grace is common because (1) it is rooted in Christ and (2) it is given not to particular humans, but to humanity rooted in Christ, “as a still undivided whole.” He says that there is no common grace apart from Christ.

For if one tries to conceive of common grace apart from Christ by attributing it exclusively to God as creator, then one drives a wedge in the christian ground motive between creation and redemption. Then one introduces an internal split within the Christian ground motive, through which it loses its radical and integral character. (Radical and integral here mean: everything is related to God in its religious root.) Then one forgets that common grace is shown to all mankind,–and in mankind to the whole temporal world–as a still undivided whole, solely because mankind is redeemed and reborn in Christ and because mankind embraced in Christ still shares in fallen human nature until the fulfillment of all things.(Roots, 38; Vernieuwing en Bezinning, 38)

If common grace is shown to the religious root, to mankind “as a still undivided whole,” then this is inconsistent with any Calvinistic theology that takes an infralapsarian view of God’s decrees. Dooyeweerd’s position is supralapsarian. God’s grace–even common grace–is given prior to the fall [assuming we can speak of a prior or posterior for God’s actions that lie beyond time].

I believe that Michael Morbey is correct when he says Dooyeweerd has been misinterpreted by those who follow the infralapsarian position of Covenant theology. Morbey says that Steen’s critique of Dooyeweerd can itself be seen as having been influenced by this Covenant theology in the works of Meredith Kline (Morbey, unpublished manuscript). Steen praises Kline’s Covenant theology highly and says that it is “a striking confirmation of the work of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd as philosophers.” (Steen 297, ft. 28). But Steen’s conclusion is unwarranted, because he also criticizes Dooyeweerd’s supralapsarianism (Steen 41, 205-206, 225, 227, 331-332). Unlike Dooyeweerd, who does not want to drive a wedge between creation and redemption, Kline says that creation and not redemption is primary (Steen (328). It is only by rejecting Dooyeweerd’s “key of knowledge”–the supratemporal heart as the root of temporal reality–that Steen can try to force his thought into this infralapsarian mold.

Morbey cites E. David Willis, who says that Calvin “speaks of Christ as the Mediator before the Incarnation even prior to and apart from the Fall.” (E. David Willis: Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin’s Theology, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966, pp. 56-57).

The idea of the the “extra calvinistum” was a Lutheran term of derogation applied to Calvin’s claim that Christ’s omnipresence as Arché transcended the confines of his own human flesh. Willis cites Athanasius here:

For he was not bounded within the body, nor was he so in the body that he was not elsewhere, nor did he so move that body that the government of the universe was left empty of his efficacy and providence. But the thing most marvelous is that the Word was not at all contained by anything but himself rather contained all things. And just as while present in the whole of creation he is at once distinct in being from the universe and present in all things by his power–giving order to all things and revealing his own providence over all and in all, and giving life to each thing and to all things, including the whole, without being included but being in his own Father alone wholly and in every respect–so existing in the human body and being the life-giver to it, he was also quickening the universe and still was in everything and was also beyond all things.

Morbey believes that it is in relation to this ‘extra calvinistum’ that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy may be authentically Calvinistic. But this is a Calvinism that has affinities to orthodox theology, and is very different from later Covenant Reformed theology. For the ‘extra calvinistum’ represents the relation between religious root and temporal reality. And this is also reflected in our own selfhood, as we participate in Christ, the New Root. In Christ, and in our true selfhood, there is a double mystical movement of knowledge between the supratemporal and the temporal.

Calvin emphasized this double mystical movement, or the duplex cognitio Dei. There is one act of knowing, that can be analyzed in a twofold fashion. Morbey says that Appendix D, “Descenscus in se” of Ford Lewis Battles’ Calculus Fidei: Some Ruminations on the Structure of the Theology of John Calvin (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1978; Privately published, with appendices) details the presence of this mystical double movement or circle in Calvin’s religious experience and thinking. Calvin’s theological methodology is that of successive approximations to the truth as means between extremes. Every notion of Calvin is defined in a field of tension, a true middle between false extremes.The use of more than one image; generates conflicting statements. The calculus is that the key to the infinite is the infinitesima. The way down is the way up. The least is the greatest. The Word of God is dynamic; not just “definition.”

Morbey sees these ideas as reflecting an orthodox view of God, humanity, and creation. But he says that this contemplative structure in Dooyeweerd’s thought, which depends on the double movement between the supratemporal and the temporal, was opposed by Vollenhoven:

Vollenhoven sought to excise from the heart of Dooyeweerdean philosophy the very transcendental contemplative structure which I would consider most Orthodox and most akin to Hesychasm, and to replace it by the thoroughly “Western,” legal categories of Dutch Covenantal Theology. (Morbey’s Letter to Hayes, p. 15).

Although I am interested in Morbey’s discussion of the ‘extra calvinistum,’ the movement between supratemporal and temporal is better explained by Franz von Baader’s christian theosophy, in the relation between supratemporal center and temporal periphery.  This influence can  be traced in the reception of Baader’s Christian theosophy by Daniël Chantepie de la Saussaye and J.H. Gunning Jr. From them it was transmitted to Kuyper and Dooyeweerd. The similarities between Dooyeweerd’s philosophy and Christian theosophy are too numerous to be coincidental.  For a full discussion of why the neo-Calvinism of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd is not Calvinistic but rather in the tradition of Christian theosophy, see my book “Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy: Franz von Baader, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd.”

Revised Aug 21/06; May 29/15; Dec 23/16