An ancient proverb says that people must know themselves. If it disgraceful to be ignorant about the things of life, how much disgraceful is ignorance of yourself! If we are ignorant of ourselves, we end up deceiving ourselves of what matters most. It’s like we’re walking blindfolded through life. Unfortunately, some philosophers have misused the proverbs. When they exhort people to know themselves, they encourage people to see in themselves things which will only fill them with vain confidence and inflate them with pride. But real self-knowledges consists first in acknowledging that we depend entirely on God. We must perceive how great human nature would have been if we had not fallen into sin. Therefore, we must all be humble, feeling shame and guilt, because we know of our miserable condition since Adam’s fall.
God first form human beings in his own image. He elevated our minds to pursue virtue and to contemplate eternal life. He gave us reason to prevent us from burying these noble qualities, which distinguish us from animals. He gave us reason and intelligence so that we can cultivate a holy and honorable life, with immortality as our destined goal. At the same time, it is impossible to reflect upon our original dignity as a species without being immediately reminded of our corruption, ever since we fell from our original state in the person of our first parents, Adam. In this way, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves and become truly humble. We become inflamed with new desires to seek after God, through whom each person may regain all of those good qualities we originally had but had lost because of sin.
“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.