Thursday, May 21, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,4:9-15) [Clerical Celibacy / Hierarchy / Popular Approval of Bishops / "Reformers'" Authority (?)]

See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

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Book IV



9. The Clerici, among whom were the Doorkeepers and Acolytes, were the names given to exercises used as a kind of training for tyros.

We have now reviewed the ministerial offices of the ancient Church. For others, of which ecclesiastical writers make mention, were rather exercises and preparations than distinct offices. These holy men, that they might leave a nursery of the Church behind them, received young men, who, with the consent and authority of their parents, devoted themselves to the spiritual warfare under their guardianship and training, and so formed them from their tender years, that they might not enter on the discharge of the office as ignorant novices. All who received this training were designated by the general name of Clerks. I could wish that some more appropriate name had been given them, for this appellation had its origin in error, or at least improper feeling, since the whole church is by Peter denominated κληρος (clerus), that is, the inheritance of the Lord (1 Pet. 5:3). It was in itself, however, a most sacred and salutary institution, that those who wished to devote themselves and their labour to the Church should be brought up under the charge of the bishop; so that no one should minister in the Church unless he had been previously well trained, unless he had in early life imbibed sound doctrine, unless by stricter discipline he had formed habits of gravity and severer morals, been withdrawn from ordinary business, and accustomed to spiritual cares and studies. For as tyros in the military art are trained by mock fights for true and serious warfare, so there was a rudimental training by which they were exercised in clerical duty before they were actually appointed to office. First, then, they intrusted them with the opening and shutting of the church, and called them Ostiarii. Next, they gave the name of Acolytes to those who assisted the bishop in domestic services, and constantly attended him, first, as a mark of respect; and, secondly, that no suspicion might arise. Moreover, that they might gradually become known to the people, and recommend themselves to them, and at the same time might learn to stand the gaze of all, and speak before all, that they might not, when appointed presbyters, be overcome with shame when they came forward to teach, the office of reading in the desk was given them. In this way they were gradually advanced, that they might prove their carefulness in separate exercises, until they were appointed subdeacons. All I mean by this is, that these were rather the rudimentary exercises of tyros than functions which were accounted among the true ministries of the Church.

No beef here . . .

10. Second part of the chapter, treating of the calling of Ministers. Some error introduced in course of time in respect to celibacy from excessive strictness. In regard to the ordination of Ministers, full regard not always paid to the consent of the people. Why the people less anxious to maintain their right. Ordinations took place at stated times.

In regard to what we have set down as the first and second heads in the calling of ministers—viz. the persons to be elected and the religious care to be therein exercised—the ancient Church followed the injunction of Paul, and the examples of the apostles. For they were accustomed to meet for the election of pastors with the greatest reverence, and with earnest prayer to God. Moreover, they had a form of examination by which they tested the life and doctrine of those who were to be elected by the standard of Paul (1 Tim. 3:2); only here they sometimes erred from excessive strictness, by exacting more of a bishop than Paul requires, and especially, in process of time, by exacting celibacy: but in other respects their practice corresponded with Paul’s description.

Priestly celibacy was, contrary to Calvin's insinuation,. quite in line with Paul's injunctions, since he was celibate himself, urged his followers to imitate him, and wrote:
1 Corinthians 7:7-9,32-35 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. [8] To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. [9] But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. . . . [32] I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; [33] but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, [34] and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. [35] I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. . . . [38] So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
I've dealt with Calvin's irrational and unbiblical antipathy to clerical celibacy elsewhere.

In regard to our third head, however—viz. Who were entitled to appoint ministers?—they did not always observe the same rule. Anciently none were admitted to the number of the clergy without the consent of the whole people: and hence Cyprian makes a laboured apology for having appointed Aurelius a reader without consulting the Church, because, although done contrary to custom, it was not done without reason. He thus premises: “In ordaining clergy, dearest brethren, we are wont previously to consult you, and weigh the manners and merits of each by the common advice” (Cyprian. Lib. 2 Ep. 5). But as in these minor exercises there was no great danger, inasmuch as they were appointed to a long probation and unimportant function, the consent of the people ceased to be asked. Afterwards, in other orders also, with the exception of the bishopric, the people usually left the choice and decision to the bishop and presbyters, who thus determined who were fit and worthy, unless, perhaps, when new presbyters were appointed to parishes, for then the express consent of the inhabitants of the place behoved to be given. Nor is it strange that in this matter the people were not very anxious to maintain their right, for no subdeacon was appointed who had not given a long proof of his conduct in the clerical office, agreeably to the strictness of discipline then in use. After he had approved himself in that degree, he was appointed deacon, and thereafter, if he conducted himself faithfully, he attained to the honour of a presbyter. Thus none were promoted whose conduct had not, in truth, been tested for many years under the eye of the people. There were also many canons for punishing their faults, so that the Church, if she did not neglect the remedies, was not burdened with bad presbyters or deacons. In the case of presbyters, indeed, the consent of the citizens was always required, as is attested by the canon (Primus Distinct. 67), which is attributed to Anacletus. In fine, all ordinations took place at stated periods of the year, that none might creep in stealthily without the consent of the faithful, or be promoted with too much facility without witnesses.

This discussion can go round and round. It is clear (rightly or wrongly) that the Church eventually adopted (with many fully expected exceptions in earlier times) a hierarchical structure. Calvin may not like that, but it is the historical reality, and it is not contrary to Scripture, especially in its presentation of the Council of Jerusalem and in its teaching on Petrine primacy and the papacy that was modeled after same. Calvin wants to maintain that the first few centuries were "before the papacy" (his chapter title) but that is manifestly false as well. The papacy developed, like all other doctrines, but it was there from the start. The very early Epistles of Clement, for example, make that clear, as he was a bishop, or pope of the Roman See.

11. In the ordination of Bishops the liberty of the people maintained.

In electing bishops, the people long retained their right of preventing any one from being intruded who was not acceptable to all. Accordingly, it was forbidden by the Council of Antioch to induct any one on the unwilling. This also Leo I. carefully confirms. Hence these passages: “Let him be elected whom the clergy and people or the majority demand.” Again. “Let him who is to preside over all be elected by all” (Leo, Ep. 90, cap. 2). He, therefore, who is appointed while unknown and unexamined, must of necessity be violently intruded. Again, “Let him be elected who is chosen by the clergy, and called by the people, and let him be consecrated by the provincials with the judgment of the metropolitan.” So careful were the holy fathers that this liberty of the people should on no account be diminished, that when a general council, assembled at Constantinople, were ordaining Nectarius, they declined to do it without the approbation of the whole clergy and people, as their letter to the Roman synod testified. Accordingly, when any bishop nominated his successor, the act was not ratified without consulting the whole people. Of this you have not only an example, but the form, in Augustine, in the nomination of Eradius (August. Ep. 110). And Theodoret, after relating that Peter was the successor nominated by Athanasius, immediately adds, that the sacerdotal order ratified it, that the magistracy, chief men, and whole people, by their acclamation approved.

Granting that this was the case (and I have no immediate reason to doubt his account of it), it still doesn't follow that the bishop had no authority over the people, or could be removed at a whim. Presidents and Senators are elected in the United States, and then they have authority. Supreme Court Justices (a closer parallel) are nominated by the elected President and confirmed by the elected Senators, but then they have lifetime legal authority. So, while Calvin may milk this point for all it's worth, it provides no undermining whatever of the hierarchical structure of the Church or the binding authority of the Church, over against his (and Luther's) new rule of faith: sola Scriptura.

The facts of Church history show that by the 4th-6th centuries, the functions of bishops were virtually identical to what they are in the Catholic Church today. Protestant historian Philip Schaff describes the situation in the period of 311-590:
The bishops now stood with sovereign power at the head of the clergy and of their dioceses. They had come to be universally regarded as the vehicles and propagators of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the teachers and lawgivers of the church in all matters of faith and discipline. The specific distinction between them and the presbyters was carried into everything; . . .
The traditional participation of the people in the election, which attested the popular origin of the episcopal office, still continued, but gradually sank to a mere formality, and at last became entirely extinct. The bishops filled their own vacancies, and elected and ordained the clergy. Besides ordination, as the medium for communicating the official gifts, they also claimed from the presbyters in the West, after the fifth century, the exclusive prerogatives of confirming the baptized and consecrating the chrism or holy ointment used in baptism. . . .

History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, Chapter Five: "The Hierarchy and Polity of the Church," § 53. The Bishops)
This was how the Mind of the Church (after a few centuries' reflection) decided the question (and Calvin admits to at least partial validity and sensibility of this in the next section). His task and burden remain, in any event, to tell us how this same Church supposedly "died" at a certain point of history: how and when this occurred, and why he has the authority in the first place to definitively declare such a death and final apostasy, so that we poor misguided souls are forced to fall back on his new "church" (or Luther's or Zwingli's, or Henry VIII's, or the Anabaptists, etc.). Failing that, his entire Institutes is an act of futility. He may wax eloquently and profitably on whatever true and Catholic elements remain in his system (as I have acknowledged several times over the course of my critique), but the rest is irrelevant if it is disconnected to Scripture and the Catholic Church of the ages: the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself and established with St. Peter as the initial head and prototype papal leader.

12. Certain limits afterwards introduced to restrain the inconsiderate licence of the multitude.

It was, indeed, decreed (and I admit on the best grounds) by the Council of Laodicea (Can. 18) that the election should not be left to crowds.

From whence, then, comes the authority of any and all of the early Protestant leaders? This seems to be the $64,000 question that I have never seen answered in my many years of study of the 16th century religious sphere. From what I have gathered thus far, they all merely proclaimed themselves authorities. Luther deigned himself a sort of quasi-prophet, whose words came from God. Henry VIII (the most obvious case) used political power to usurp the leadership of the Catholic Church in England (and murdered those who disagreed with this). Calvin seems to have thought that because he was a brilliant thinker and expositor and had the knack for organization and systematic theology, that he was to naturally be regarded as a "reformer." The authority never came the way it always had in the Church: from apostolic succession or appointment from above. The revolutionary always proclaims himself as the leader.

For it scarcely ever happens that so many heads, with one consent, settle any affair well. It generally holds true, “Incertum scindi studia in contraria vulgus;”—“Opposing wishes rend the fickle crowd.” For, first, the clergy alone selected, and presented him whom they had selected to the magistrate, or senate, and chief men. These, after deliberation, put their signature to the election, if it seemed proper, if not, they chose another whom they more highly approved. The matter was then laid before the multitude, who, although not bound by those previous proceedings, were less able to act tumultuously. Or, if the matter began with the multitude, it was only that it might be known whom they were most desirous to have; the wishes of the people being heard, the clergy at length elected. Thus, it was neither lawful for the clergy to appoint whom they chose, nor were they, however, under the necessity of yielding to the foolish desires of the people. Leo sets down this order, when he says, “The wishes of the citizens, the testimonies of the people, the choice of the honourable, the election of the clergy, are to be waited for” (Leo, Ep. 87). Again, “Let the testimony of the honourable, the subscription of the clergy, the consent of the magistracy and people, be obtained; otherwise (says he) it must on no account be done.” Nor is anything more intended by the decree of the Council of Laodicea, than that the clergy and rulers were not to allow themselves to be carried away by the rash multitude, but rather by their prudence and gravity to repress their foolish desires whenever there was occasion.

The Church at length decided all these things, which is illustrative of the point itself: the Church (not individuals or even collectives of individuals) has the authority to declare on doctrine, and even on Church authority itself.

13. This mode of election long prevailed. Testimony of Gregory. Nothing repugnant to this in the decretals of Gratian.

This mode of election was still in force in the time of Gregory, and probably continued to a much later period. Many of his letters which are extant clearly prove this, for whenever a new bishop is to be elected, his custom is to write to the clergy, magistrates, and people; sometimes also to the governor, according to the nature of the government. But if, on account of the unsettled state of the Church, he gives the oversight of the election to a neighbouring bishop, he always requires a formal decision confirmed by the subscriptions of all. Nay, when one Constantius was elected Bishop of Milan, and in consequence of the incursions of the Barbarians many of the Milanese had fled to Genoa, he thought that the election would not be lawful unless they too were called together and gave their assent (Gregor. Lib. 2 Ep. 69). Nay, five hundred years have not elapsed since Pope Nicholas fixed the election of the Roman Pontiff in this way, first, that the cardinals should precede; next, that they should join to themselves the other clergy; and, lastly, that the election should be ratified by the consent of the people. And in the end he recites the decree of Leo, which I lately quoted, and orders it to be enforced in future. But should the malice of the wicked so prevail that the clergy are obliged to quit the city, in order to make a pure election, he, however, orders that some of the people shall, at the same time, be present. The suffrage of the Emperor, as far as we can understand, was required only in two churches, those of Rome and Constantinople, these being the two seats of empire. For when Ambrose was sent by Valentinianus to Milan with authority to superintend the election of a new bishop, it was an extraordinary proceeding, in consequence of the violent factions which raged among the citizens. But at Rome the authority of the Emperor in the election of the bishop was so great, that Gregory says he was appointed to the government of the Church by his order (Gregor. Lib. 1 Ep. 5), though he had been called by the people in regular form. The custom, however, was, that when the magistrates, clergy, and people, nominated any one, he was forthwith presented to the Emperor, who either by approving ratified, or by disapproving annulled the election. There is nothing contrary to this practice in the decretals which are collected by Gratian. where all that is said is, that it was on no account to be tolerated, that canonical election should be abolished, and a king should at pleasure appoint a bishop, and that one thus promoted by violent authority was not to be consecrated by the metropolitans. For it is one thing to deprive the Church of her right, and transfer it entirely to the caprice of a single individual; it is another thing to assign to a king or emperor the honour of confirming a legitimate election by his authority.

None of this history (assuming it is accurate) need be denied (and I don't), but it is ultimately inconclusive with regard to overthrowing the hierarchy of the Church, which Calvin did. Of what consequence is it to go over details of a thing, if one intends to overthrow the entire thing and replace it with something else? That being the case, it is the overthrowing or the revolution that needs to be justified, not the minutiae relating to the thing overthrown.

14. The form of ordination in the ancient Church.

It now remains to treat of the form by which the ministers of the ancient Church were initiated to their office after election. This was termed by the Latins, Ordination or consecration, and by the Greeks χειροτονία, sometimes also χειροθεσία, though χειροτονία properly denotes that mode of election by which suffrages are declared by a show of hands. There is extant a decree of the Council of Nice, to the effect that the metropolitans, with all the bishops of the province, were to meet to ordain him who was chosen. But if, from distance, or sickness, or any other necessary cause, part were prevented, three at least should meet, and those who were absent signify their consent by letter. And this canon, after it had fallen into desuetude, was afterwards renewed by several councils. All, or at least all who had not an excuse, were enjoined to be present, in order that a stricter examination might be had of the life and doctrine of him who was to be ordained; for the thing was not done without examination. And it appears, from the words of Cyprian, that, in old time, they were not wont to be called after the election, but to be present at the election, and with the view of their acting as moderators, that no disorder might be committed by the crowd. For after saying that the people had the power either of choosing worthy or refusing unworthy priests, he immediately adds, “For which reason, we must carefully observe and hold by the divine and apostolic tradition (which is observed by us also, and almost by all the provinces), that for the due performance of ordinations all the nearest bishops of the province should meet with the people over whom the person is proposed to be ordained, and the bishop should be elected in presence of the people. But as they were sometimes too slowly assembled, and there was a risk that some might abuse the delay for purposes of intrigue, it was thought that it would be sufficient if they came after the designation was made, and on due investigation consecrated him who had been approved.

See previous comment.

15. This form gradually changed.

While this was done everywhere without exception, a different custom gradually gained ground—namely, that those who were elected should go to the metropolitan to obtain ordination. This was owing more to ambition, and the corruption of the ancient custom, than to any good reason. And not long after, the authority of the Romish See being now increased, another still worse custom was introduced, of applying to it for the consecration of the bishops of almost all Italy. This we may observe from the letters of Gregory (Lib. 2 Ep. 69, 76). The ancient right was preserved by a few cities only which had not yielded so easily; for instance, Milan.

How is it any essentially different that a pope in the 6th century (St. Gregory the Great) has power of appointment (and decree), compared to St. Peter at the Council of Jerusalem presiding over a council of the whole Church, which arrived at decrees that were then binding on the faithful (and declared as such even by St. Paul on his missionary journeys)? I see no difference whatever. But Calvin somehow sees a radical distinction that leads him to despise the historical papacy, but not the Scripture that plainly models and upholds it.

Perhaps metropolitan sees only retained their privilege. For, in order to consecrate an archbishop, it was the practice for all the provincial bishops to meet in the metropolitan city. The form used was the laying on of hands (chap. 19 sec. 28, 31). I do not read that any other ceremonies were used, except that, in the public meeting, the bishops had some dress to distinguish them from the other presbyters. Presbyters, also, and deacons, were ordained by the laying on of hands; but each bishop, with the college of presbyters, ordained his own presbyters. But though they all did the same act, yet because the bishop presided, and the ordination was performed as it were under his auspices, it was said to be his. Hence ancient writers often say that a presbyter does not differ in any respect from a bishop except in not having the power of ordaining.

No disagreements . . .

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