Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New "Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes" Series Commences (Introduction)



Title page of a Latin edition of John Calvin's Institutes, published in 1834 by Gustave Eichler

[ source ]

For quite a while now, I've desired to make an in-depth, point-by-point reply to large portions of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin is, quite arguably, the most articulate and "meaty" (though often obscurantist and illogical) Protestant theologian, and almost certainly the most systematic. I've done a great deal of research on Martin Luther, so it is long overdue for me to start paying relatively more attention to the second most influential figure in the Protestant Revolt (perhaps even the most influential): John Calvin.

Other tasks (mostly books, as of late) have required my attention. But now I'm in a place where this can be my next "project": and it will be a major undertaking, prolonged for many months. It'll give me plenty of work to do, and keep me busy, for sure. I expect that it will be eventually contained in a book or two, after all the labor I will have devoted to it. Much of Calvin's subject matter gets to the heart -- the very crux -- of the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants.

Calvin, of course, has the big advantage going in, in such a "debate." He's the famous and extremely influential theologian and scholar, with tons of education, rhetorical and literary ability in droves, and a remarkable encyclopedic knowledge in many areas. I'm just a lay Catholic apologist with a degree in sociology, and no formal theological education (but with lots of informal theological education for over thirty years). I rather like that. I love to play David over against a "Goliath." I relish the challenge, and this will assuredly be one that will take a lot of effort and very hard work on my part: with intense research often required.

If it is concluded that I prevail here and there in my replies, then it will bring (all the more) the point home that Calvin is wrong in his arguments, where he opposes the Catholic Church. I'm confident that he can very often plainly be shown to be in error. I have no doubt about that, from what I have seen of his work thus far. I've often noted that one can be the greatest genius of all time, but if the facts and the truth are not on their side, they can be defeated by an infant who knows the truth. So I'll give it my best shot.

I'll be utilizing for my purposes, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge for the Calvin Translation Society in 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; reprinted by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995, and available online. This work is in the public domain because of its age. That being the case, I am able to easily cut and paste everything in it, without a great deal of extra typing being necessary. This allows me to easily reply in my usual socratic manner, and go "back and forth" with Calvin. At times I will also refer to the recent translation of the Institutes (John T. McNeill, editor, and Ford Lewis Battles, translator; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960; also from the 1559 edition). That will be referred to as "Battles."

I'll also (it should be noted) make some response to every portion of the sections that I deal with, and cite the entire Calvin text; leaving out nothing, per my standard modus operandi when replying to others. I don't pick and choose, or select that which is more easily answered. When seriously replying to opposing arguments we need to deal with all of the contents. If I don't have an immediate answer to something, I'll happily admit it. I never claimed to have all the answers. But I do claim to have some answers and substantive replies to a wide range of contra-Catholic arguments. Calvin can't counter-respond, but such is the necessary disadvantage of being dead for 450 years. Calvin's superior education will be his advantage. But the Institutes is widely used to this day, and since it is so critical of Catholicism, it needs to be answered from a Catholic perspective.

My biggest interest lies in Book IV: Of the Holy Catholic Church. It runs 510 pages in the 1960 Battles edition. This is where the real contrast between Calvinism and Catholicism is most evident, in my opinion: even more than in soteriology, or the theology of salvation (Book III), where the two sides are far closer than many in both parties realize. I like to go right to the heart of any given issue, and that's located here, in my opinion.

I hope my reply is edifying and educational for readers who seek to understand the difference between the two theological systems, and to decide which is more worthy of allegiance. I will try to keep my own polemics to a bare minimum, which will be somewhat difficult, because Calvin (due to his anti-Catholicism: mirrored today in some of his most ardent followers) is often highly provocative and polemical. I'll let him rave against Catholicism. My aim is to stick to theology and rational argument: to Scripture and history. When he makes an actual argument or claim, it'll be scrutinized, and if it is clearly false, exposed for the falsehood that it is. When he simply takes gratuitous potshots at Catholicism (as he often does), that is not an argument and thus, needs no particular response other than a bemused half-smile and yawn.

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