Books of Cornelius Van Til

Victor Bohus's picture


I have recently sent a request with regard to adding the collection of the Church historian August Neander to the CCEL website. I was informed that they were currently "not adding ANY new books to CCEL as we are focused on our new, sister site called" and further stated, "I expect that we'll start adding books again within the next year".

Nevertheless, it is my firm belief that Cornelius Van Til's works are a must for and should, therefore, be posted on this website. Although he was not mainly a theologian, he was as competent a Christian philosopher as Saint Augustine, who was, however, polluted with some pagan, particularly Plato's, views. Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987) was a thorough Calvinist, as a consequence of which he created a system of philosophy based on the Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinistic notions of an utterly depraved humanity due to the original sin of man, who "in his pride had sought to be his own satisfaction" and who "by aspiring to be self-sufficing, fell away from Him who truly suffices him" (St Augustine, "City of God", chapters 13 and 15); total dependence on God for the turning away of man from sin to God; the Sovereignty of the Creator, Who "exists uniquely, being separate from the universe, as well as being independent of any external conditions or limitations which characterize the existence and life of everything in the universe" (Dr. Greg Bahnsen, "A Reformed Confession Regarding Creation") and His absolute and unconditional predestination.

For Van Til, like for Calvin and the other Reformers, the formal principle of the Reformation - Sola Scriptura - was essential, as well as the "sensus divinitatis" (i.e. every human has an intrinsic and inalienable knowledge of God's existence); the "massa damnata", nonetheless, as Paul holds in Romans 1:18-20, "suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse".

Van Til's aim was to build a Christian philosophy on true, Biblical theism and presuppositions, making no compromise with antitheistic presuppositions. He opposed the "traditional method" of proving the existence of God. He claimed that God's existence is not simply "highly probable", a probability which must be reached at the end of sophisticated syllogisms produced on "neutral ground", but ontologically and "rationally" necessary.

Cornelius Van Til, in his "A Survey Of Christian Epistemology" writes, "As we took Plato for a representative of Greek epistemology, so we may take Augustine for a representative of early Christian epistemology. We would note that Augustine’s thought, though in many ways Platonic, is fundamentally the polar opposite of Plato’s thought. Plato assumed that the human mind can function independently of God; Augustine held that man’s thought is a thinking of God’s thoughts after him. Accordingly, Augustine did not seek to interpret reality by any of the three Platonic methods. He sought rather to give a philosophy of history in terms of the counsel of God. Augustine found in the conception of the Trinity the union of the logical principles of identity and difference, while Plato had sought for the origin of diversity in the sense world." It is in the Trinity that Augustine identified ultimate unity and ultimate plurality, although he never explicitly stated it in these exact words.

"The question we must ask constantly is how anyone has conceived of the relation of the human mind to the divine mind. It is on this point that the greatest difference obtains between the theistic and the non-theistic position. The former cannot think of the human mind as functional at all except when it is in contact with God; the latter presupposes it to be possible that the human mind function normally whether or not God exists", he argues.

In the same book, Van Til offered a marvelously acute and profound commentary on the temptation of the first couple, "Then came the tempter. He presented to Eve another, that is, an antitheistic theory of reality, and asked her to be the judge as to which was the more reasonable for her to accept. And the acceptance of this position of judge constituted the fall of man. That acceptance put the mind of man on an equality with the mind of God. That acceptance also put the mind of the devil on an equality with God. Before Eve could listen to the tempter she had to take for granted that the devil was perhaps a person who knew as much about reality as God knew about it. Before Eve could listen to the tempter, she had to take it for granted that she herself might be such an one as to make it reasonable for her to make a final decision between claims and counter-claims that involved the entire future of her existence. That is, Eve was obliged to postulate an ultimate epistemological pluralism and contingency before she could even proceed to consider the proposition made to her by the devil. Or, otherwise expressed, Eve was compelled to assume the equal ultimacy of the minds of God, of the devil, and of herself. And this surely excluded the exclusive ultimacy of God. This therefore was a denial of God’s absoluteness epistemologically. Thus neutrality was based upon negation. Neutrality is negation".

Indeed, as Augustine put it in the 13th chapter of his "City of God", "Our first parents fell into open disobedience because already they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil will preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil will but pride? For “pride is the beginning of sin.” And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself. This happens when it becomes its own satisfaction... The wicked deed, then,—that is to say, the transgression of eating the forbidden fruit,—was committed by persons who were already wicked... The devil, then, would not have ensnared man in the open and manifest sin of doing what God had forbidden, had man not already begun to live for himself."

All in all, I honestly believe that Cornelius Van Til's philosophy is a major (though rather unknown) progress for Christianity, proving itself to be largely faithful to Holy Scriptures. It is for this reason that I think that his works properly belong here as well.

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Thank you by Victor Bohus

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