Here they have recourse to the distinction between will and permission. By this they would maintain that the wicked perish because God permits it, not because he so wills. But why shall we say “permission” unless it is because God so wills? Still, it is not in itself likely that man brought destruction upon himself through himself, by God’s mere permission and without any ordaining. As if God did not establish the condition in which he wills the chief of his creatures to be! I shall not hesitate, then, simply to confess with Augustine that “the will of God is the necessity of things,” and that what he has willed will of necessity come to pass, as those things which he has foreseen will truly come to pass.Calvin's comment here enters that controversial place many theists fear to go, God's absolute unchangeable will, God's permissive will, predestination, reprobation, and Adam's fall into sin. I was curious to see Augustine's citation in context, to see if Calvin either mis-cited or misused Augustine. Granted, this may seem in some sense like an invitation to debate or discuss God's sovereignty, but my goal is primarily academic, focusing on how Calvin cited Augustine.
The version of Calvin's Institutes I utilized was that translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill. This text provides a reference: Augustine, On Genesis in the Literal Sense VI. 15. 26 (MPL 34.350). MPL refers to Migne Patrologia Latina. Here is 34:350. The text reads:
An English translation is available. For context, I've also included VI.14.25.
Calvin's comments occur in his overall discussion on predestination and reprobation primarily, but he ventures into the fall of Adam into sin. Did God permit man's fall into sin or did he ordain it? Calvin affirms the later and says, "I shall not hesitate, then, simply to confess with Augustine that 'the will of God is the necessity of things,' and that what he has willed will of necessity come to pass, as those things which he has foreseen will truly come to pass." Later in the same section Calvin states, "Accordingly, man falls according as God's providence ordains, but he falls by his own fault." If this sounds tricky, Calvin goes on to say that we should spend our time contemplating Adam as the evident cause of the fall rather than "seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God's predestination":
Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity—which is closer to us—rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. And let us not be ashamed to submit our understanding to God’s boundless wisdom so far as to yield before its many secrets. For, of those things which it is neither given nor lawful to know, ignorance is learned; the craving to know, a kind of madness.What was Augustine writing about? His comments were not addressing predestination and reprobation. His comments are from a book entitled, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. His concerns are with creation and origins. in VI.14.25 tackles whether or not things were created fully formed or whether or not they developed. Augustine says "they were created with an aptitude for each mode." In the next section, Augustine applies this to the creation of Adam and says whichever way God did it, it would be his absolute will that determined it. If the creation of man was an instantaneous creation of a fully formed man, that happened by God's imposed necessity. If the creation of man was through a process of some sort, whether it be formed into the mud "in that primordial establishment of causes," that happened by God's imposed necessity. If the creation of man has the potentiality to be created either way, the way it happened is by God's imposed necessity.
Did Calvin mis-cite Augustine? I don't think so. Both Calvin and Augustine in essence agree that all things that God created conform to His sovereign necessity, however each applied it in different areas. The overarching point is God's necessity. I see some overlap with Calvin the continuation of Augustine's comments in the next section. Augustine says we don't know if a person will grow old, but if he does, it was God's will, "who established all things" because "the hidden formula of old age is there in the youthful body" (VI.16.27). The necessity of the man growing old is because of God, "For if he wills that will of necessity be in the future, and it is those things that he has foreknown which will really be in the future" (VI.17.28). "The one who foreknows them [God] cannot be mistaken" (VI.17.28). He further refers to God adding fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah, something God knew he was going to do "before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:4) that he was going to do, and which he reserved to his own will" (VI.17.28). "God's foreknowledge cannot be mistaken. And this is why what he foreknew would of necessity come to pass in the future" (VI.17.28). Augustine further says that God "deliberately predetermined" Adam according to His will (VI.18.29).
Did Calvin misuse or misapply Augustine here? That's a little less clear to me. I expected that when I tracked down the Augustine reference, the context would be directly related in some way to the issues of predestination or the fall into sin. I was surprised to find a discussion about whether or not creation is created fully formed or whether it developed! I can certainly see how someone could be critical of Calvin's use of Augustine here, particularly since Augustine does attempt to tackle the implications of sovereignty and the fall in his writings, but not in this particular section Calvin referred to.
For an interesting discussion of Augustine's view on man's fall into sin, see: Robert F. Brown, "The First Evil Will Must be Incomprehensible: A Critique of Augustine," JAAR 46, no. 3 (1978) 315-329. While critical, the author helpfully lays out Augustine's various answers to the origin of the fall.
This author says that Augustine came up with various explanations, including that the fall was incomprehensible to human intellect, but at times moved beyond that to causal explanations.