Thursday, May 21, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,4:5-8) [Ancient Church Care for the Poor vs. Early Protestant Theft of Churches & Neglect for Poor]

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



5. Deacons, the second order of Ministers in the primitive Church. Their proper office. The Bishop their inspector. Subdeacons, their assistants. Archdeacons, their presidents. The reading of the Gospel, an adventitious office conferred in honour on the Deacons.

Nor was the case of deacons then different from what it had been under the apostles (chap. 3 sec. 6). For they received the daily offerings of the faithful, and the annual revenues of the Church, that they might apply them to their true uses; in other words, partly in maintaining ministers, and partly in supporting the poor; at the sight of the bishop, however, to whom they every year gave an account of their stewardship. For, although the canons uniformly make the bishop the dispenser of all the goods of the Church, this is not to be understood as if he by himself undertook that charge, but because it belonged to him to prescribe to the deacon who were to be admitted to the public alimony of the Church, and point out to what persons, and in what portions, the residue was to be distributed, and because he was entitled to see whether the deacon faithfully performed his office. Thus, in the canons which they ascribe to the apostles, it is said, “We command that the bishop have the affairs of the Church under his control. For if the souls of men, which are more precious, have been intrusted to him, much more is he entitled to have the charge of money matters, so that under his control all may be dispensed to the poor by the presbyters and deacons, that the ministration may be made reverently and with due care.” And in the Council of Antioch, it was decreed (cap. 35), that bishops, who inter-meddled with the effects of the Church, without the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons, should be restrained. But there is no occasion to discuss this point farther, since it is evident, from many of the letters of Gregory, that even at that time, when the ecclesiastical ordinances were otherwise much vitiated, it was still the practice for the deacons to be, under the bishops, the stewards of the poor. It is probable that at the first subdeacons were attached to the deacons, to assist them in the management of the poor; but the distinction was gradually lost. Archdeacons began to be appointed when the extent of the revenues demanded a new and more exact method of administration, though Jerome mentions that it already existed in his day. To them belonged the amount of revenues, possessions, and furniture, and the charge of the daily offerings. Hence Gregory declares to the Archdeacon Solitanus, that the blame rested with him, if any of the goods of the Church perished through his fraud or negligence. The reading of the word to the people, and exhortation to prayer, was assigned to them, and they were permitted, moreover, to give the cup in the sacred Supper; but this was done for the purpose of honouring their office, that they might perform it with greater reverence, when they were reminded by such symbols that what they discharged was not some profane stewardship, but a spiritual function dedicated to God.

Nothing in dispute here, in terms of Protestant-Catholic differences . . .

6. Mode in which the goods of the Church were anciently dispensed. 1. The support of the poor. 2. Due provision for the ministers of the Church.

Hence, also, we may judge what was the use, and of what nature was the distribution of ecclesiastical goods. You may everywhere find, both from the decrees of synods, and from ancient writers, that whatever the Church possessed, either in lands or in money, was the patrimony of the poor. Accordingly, the saying is ever and anon sounded in the ears of bishops and deacons, Remember that you are not handling your own property, but that destined for the necessities of the poor; if you dishonestly conceal or dilapidate it, you will be guilty of blood. Hence they are admonished to distribute them to those to whom they are due, with the greatest fear and reverence, as in the sight of God, without respect of persons. Hence, also, in Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and other like bishops, those grave obtestations in which they assert their integrity before the people. But since it is just in itself, and was sanctioned by a divine law, that those who devote their labour to the Church shall be supported at the public expense of the Church, and some presbyters in that age having consecrated their patrimony to God, had become voluntarily poor, the distribution was so made that aliment was afforded to ministers, and the poor were not neglected. Meanwhile, it was provided that the ministers themselves, who ought to be an example of frugality to others, should not have so much as might be abused for luxury or delicacy; but only what might be needful to support their wants: “For those clergy, who can be supported by their own patrimony,” says Jerome, “commit sacrilege if they accept what belongs to the poor, and by such abuse eat and drink judgment to themselves.”

Again, no disagreement . . .

7. The administration at first free and voluntary. The revenues of the Church afterwards classed under four heads.

At first the administration was free and voluntary, when bishops and deacons were faithful of their own accord, and when integrity of conscience and purity of life supplied the place of laws.

Note how Calvin places laws in supposed inherent opposition to "purity of life." This is very clever, but fallacious. Lawlessness and disorganization and chaos and antinomianism are not especially conducive to purity and righteousness, either.

Afterwards, when, from the cupidity and depraved desires of some, bad examples arose, canons were framed, to correct these evils, and divided the revenues of the Church into four parts, assigning one to the clergy, another to the poor, another to the repair of churches and other edifices, a fourth to the poor, whether strangers or natives. For though other canons attribute this last part to the bishop, it differs in no respect from the division which I have mentioned. For they do not mean that it is his property, which he may devour alone or squander in any way he pleases, but that it may enable him to use the hospitality which Paul requires in that order (1 Tim. 3:2). This is the interpretation of Gelasius and Gregory. For the only reason which Gelasius gives why the bishop should claim anything to himself is, that he may be able to bestow it on captives and strangers. Gregory speaks still more clearly: “It is the custom of the Apostolic See,” says he, “to give command to the bishop who has been ordained, to divide all the revenues into four portions—namely, one to the bishop and his household for hospitality and maintenance, another to the clergy, a third to the poor, a fourth to the repair of churches.” The bishop, therefore, could not lawfully take for his own use more than was sufficient for moderate and frugal food and clothing. When any one began to wanton either in luxury or ostentation and show, he was immediately reprimanded by his colleagues, and if he obeyed not, was deprived of his honours.

How odd, then, that the early Protestants were notorious for wholesale theft of Church properties, not even for the poor (Robin Hood-style), but for their own ends:

Calvinist Iconoclasm Against Lutherans and Lutheran Liturgical and Material Suppression (By Outright Theft) of Catholics

How the Early Protestants Stole Thousands of Catholic Churches and Monasteries and Called These Mortal Sins "Reform" (+ Discussion)

"Reformation" Theft of Catholic Church Properties and Supposed Catholic Apologetic "Blind Spots": Counter-Response to Tim Enloe (+ Discussion)

Dialogue on 16th-Century Christians & Religious Tolerance (With Attempted Analogies to Communists, Muslims, & Pagan Romans)
Dialogue on 16th Century Religious Toleration and Theft of Church Properties

8. A third part of the revenues devoted to the fabric of churches. To this, however, when necessary, the claim of the poor was preferred. Sayings, testimonies, and examples to this effect, from Cyril, Acatius, Jerome, Exuperius, Ambrose.

Moreover, the sum expended on the adorning of churches was at first very trifling, and even afterwards, when the Church had become somewhat more wealthy, they in that matter observed mediocrity. Still, whatever money was then collected was reserved for the poor, when any greater necessity occurred. Thus Cyril, when a famine prevailed in the province of Jerusalem, and the want could not otherwise be supplied, took the vessels and robes and sold them for the support of the poor. In like manner, Acatius, Bishop of Amida, when a great multitude of the Persians were almost destroyed by famine, having assembled the clergy, and delivered this noble address, “Our God has no need either of chalices or salvers, for he neither eats nor drinks” (Tripart. Hist. Lib. 5 and Lib. 11 c. 16) melted down the plate, that he might be able to furnish food and obtain the means of ransoming the miserable. Jerome also, while inveighing against the excessive splendour of churches, relates that Exuperius, Bishop of Tholouse, in his day, though he carried the body of the Lord in a wicker basket, and his blood in a glass, nevertheless suffered no poor man to be hungry (Hieron. ad Nepotian). What I lately said of Acatius, Ambrose relates of himself. For when the Arians assailed him for having broken down the sacred vessels for the ransom of captives, he made this most admirable excuse: “He who sent the apostles without gold has also gathered churches without gold. The Church has gold not to keep but to distribute, and give support in necessity. What need is there of keeping what is of no benefit? Are we ignorant how much gold and silver the Assyrians carried off from the temple of the Lord? Is it not better for a priest to melt them for the support of the poor, if other means are wanting, than for a sacrilegious enemy to carry them away? Would not the Lord say, Why have you suffered so many poor to die of hunger, and you certainly had gold wherewith to minister to their support? Why have so many captives been carried away and not redeemed? Why have so many been slain by the enemy? It had been better to preserve living than metallic vessels. These charges you will not be able to answer: for what could you say? I feared lest the temple of God should want ornament. He would answer, Sacraments require not gold, and things which are not bought with gold please not by gold. The ornament of the Sacraments is the ransom of captives” (Ambros. de Offic. Lib. 2 c. 28). In a word, we see the exact truth of what he elsewhere says—viz. that whatever the Church then possessed was the revenue of the needy. Again, A bishop has nothing but what belongs to the poor (Ambros. Lib. 5 Ep. 31, 33).

Again, this commendable charity in the ancient Church does not find much of a parallel in early Protestantism. It was largely a top-down, political movement and a power grab (as historians of all stripes now generally hold). The peasants often resisted the religious innovations and were forced into them by law or by the sword. This was abundantly evident in England (and Calvinists and Lutherans both tried to ally themselves with the uproarious revolution going on in that country): particularly in the dissolution of the monasteries. They had provided a huge amount of social support for the poor. When they were stolen and given to rich nobles, the care for poor in England (not to mention in Ireland) received a huge setback for many centuries. For historical documentation of many of these tragic developments, see dozens of papers on my web page: Protestantism: Historic Persecution and Intolerance.

The Peasants' Revolt in Germany exhibited the same dynamic: the rich and powerful suppressing the poor (who had been stirred up by Luther himself, only to find themselves being spurned by him) . Non-Catholic historian Will Durant, in the Epilogue of his massive work The Reformation, poses as a Catholic in the 16th century responding to the massive turmoil and socio-political upheavals of the Protestant Revolution:

    Your emphasis on faith as against works was ruinous . . . for a hundred years charity almost died in the centers of your victory . . . You destroyed nearly all the schools we had established, and you weakened to the verge of death the universities that the Church had created and developed. Your own leaders admit that your disruption of the faith led to a dangerous deterioration of morals both in Germany and England. You let loose a chaos of individualism in morals, philosophy, industry, and government. You took all the joy and beauty out of religion . . . you condemned the masses of mankind to damnation as 'reprobates,' and consoled an insolent few with the pride of 'election' and salvation. You stifled the growth of art, and wherever you triumphed classical studies withered. You expropriated Church property to give it to the state and the rich, but you left the poor poorer than before, and added contempt to misery . . . You rejected the papacy only to exalt the state: you gave to selfish princes the right to determine the religion of their subjects . . . You divided nation against nation, and many a nation and city against itself; you wrecked the international moral checks on national powers, and created a chaos of warring national states . . . You claimed the right of private judgment, but you denied it to others as soon as you could . . . Every man becomes a pope, and judges the doctrines of religion before he is old enough to comprehend the functions of religion in society and morals . . . A kind of disintegrative mania, unhindered by any . . . authority, throws your followers into such absurd and violent disputes that men begin to doubt all religion, and Christianity itself would be dissolved . . . were it not that the Church stands firm amid all the fluctuations of opinion and argument . . . the one fold that can preserve religion.
    (The Reformation, volume 6 of 10-volume The Story of Civilization, 1967, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 936-937)
We can be sure that when Calvin is praising these commendable attributes in the ancient Church, he has in mind Catholic corruption, and the thought that Protestants could do far better than the Catholics, and act more like the ancient Church. In this he was dreadfully wrong, as I have shown in many many papers on the topic of early Protestant intolerance and dubious morals.

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