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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COMPARISON BETWEEN THE FALSE CHURCH AND THE TRUE.
10. Second demand of the Papists answered.
With regard to the second point, our objections are still stronger. For when the Church is considered in that particular point of view as the Church, whose judgment we are bound to revere, whose authority acknowledge, whose admonitions obey, whose censures dread, whose communion religiously cultivate in every respect, we cannot concede that they have a Church, without obliging ourselves to subjection and obedience.
That's right. If the Catholic Church, headed by the popes in Rome, is the Church, then obedience is a matter of course, and not to be questioned. Since Calvin doesn't want to be obedient to the historic Catholic Church, due to his doctrinal dissent, he has to define it out of existence, since he knows full well what the Bible teaches about Church authority. But his "case" for his schism inevitably falls short, because everywhere it runs into inexorable historical difficulties.
Still we are willing to concede what the Prophets conceded to the Jews and Israelites of their day, when with them matters were in a similar, or even in a better condition. For we see how they uniformly exclaim against their meetings as profane conventicles, to which it is not more lawful for them to assent than to abjure God (Isa. 1:14). And certainly if those were churches, it follows, that Elijah, Micaiah, and others in Israel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and those of like character in Judah, whom the prophets, priests, and people of their day, hated and execrated more than the uncircumcised, were aliens from the Church of God. If those were churches, then the Church was no longer the pillar of the truth, but the stay of falsehood, not the tabernacle of the living God, but a receptacle of idols. They were, therefore, under the necessity of refusing consent to their meetings, since consent was nothing else than impious conspiracy against God.
They were, but there are differences between the Old and New Covenants. In the New Covenant, God has promised protection against error in His Church. In neither covenant, however, did He promise that there would be no human corruption or no sin.
For this same reason, should any one acknowledge those meetings of the present day, which are contaminated by idolatry, superstition, and impious doctrine, as churches, full communion with which a Christian must maintain so far as to agree with them even in doctrine, he will greatly err.
Calvin has yet to demonstrate how the Mass was supposedly corrupted beyond all repair and hope by all these abominations.
For if they are churches, the power of the keys belongs to them, whereas the keys are inseparably connected with the word which they have put to flight. Again, if they are churches, they can claim the promise of Christ, “Whatsoever ye bind,” &c.; whereas, on the contrary, they discard from their communion all who sincerely profess themselves the servants of Christ.
Indeed. Calvin at least knows what the "stakes" are.
Therefore, either the promise of Christ is vain, or in this respect, at least, they are not churches.
Or (3) Calvin is wrong. I opt for #3.
In fine, instead of the ministry of the word, they have schools of impiety, and sinks of all kinds of error.
Empty rhetoric . . .
How can one have a "therefore" when one hasn't offered any argument that the "therefore" follows, from which it draws a conclusion?
in this point of view, they either are not churches, or no badge will remain by which the lawful meetings of the faithful can be distinguished from the meetings of Turks.
More silly choices, as if they are the only ones, . . . a quite insubstantial section. I'll wait for something more solid to (argumentatively) "chew" on.
11. Although the Papacy cannot properly be called a Church, still, against the will of Antichrist himself, there is some vestige of a Church in the Papacy, as Baptism and some other remnants.
Still, as in ancient times, there remained among the Jews certain special privileges of a Church, so in the present day we deny not to the Papists those vestiges of a Church which the Lord has allowed to remain among them amid the dissipation.
At least Calvin allows some semblance of minimal historical continuity into his viewpoint. For this we should truly be thankful, for unity's sake, and it is worthwhile to note these elements of his teaching, in discussion with Calvinists who may not be aware of them.
When the Lord had once made his covenant with the Jews, it was preserved not so much by them as by its own strength, supported by which it withstood their impiety.
As is the case with the Church. This makes far more sense than the preceding sections, when they dealt with similar ideas.
Such, then, is the certainty and constancy of the divine goodness, that the covenant of the Lord continued there and his faith could not be obliterated by their perfidy; nor could circumcision be so profaned by their impure hands as not still to be a true sign and sacrament of his covenant.
Good. By the same reasoning, we acknowledge the validity of Protestant trinitarian baptism.
Hence the children who were born to them the Lord called his own (Ezek. 16:20), though, unless by special blessing, they in no respect belonged to him. So having deposited his covenant in Gaul, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England, when these countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, He, in order that his covenant might remain inviolable, first preserved baptism there as an evidence of the covenant;—baptism, which, consecrated by his lips, retains its power in spite of human depravity; secondly, He provided by his providence that there should be other remains also to prevent the Church from utterly perishing. But as in pulling down buildings the foundations and ruins are often permitted to remain, so he did not suffer Antichrist either to subvert his Church from its foundation, or to level it with the ground (though, to punish the ingratitude of men who had despised his word, he allowed a fearful shaking and dismembering to take place), but was pleased that amid the devastation the edifice should remain, though half in ruins.
This runs contrary to Calvin's previous pronouncements of the "death of the Church" -- asserted (and refuted) in IV,2:1. But let us be thankful for these far more sensible (though still grossly minimalistic) observations.
12. The name of Church not conceded to the Papacy, though under its domination there have been some kind of churches. Herein is a fulfilment of Paul’s prophecy, that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God. Deplorable condition of such churches. Summary of the chapter.
Therefore, while we are unwilling simply to concede the name of Church to the Papists, we do not deny that there are churches among them.
This is as "ecumenical" as Calvin gets.
The question we raise only relates to the true and legitimate constitution of the Church, implying communion in sacred rites, which are the signs of profession, and especially in doctrine. Daniel and Paul foretold that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4); we regard the Roman Pontiff as the leader and standard-bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom.
Now we're back to more standard, "classic" anti-Catholicism: the pope as the Antichrist. This foolishness has been milked for all it's worth (which is nothing) for almost 500 years.
By placing his seat in the temple of God, it is intimated that his kingdom would not be such as to destroy the name either of Christ or of his Church. Hence, then, it is obvious that we do not at all deny that churches remain under his tyranny; churches, however, which by sacrilegious impiety he has profaned, by cruel domination has oppressed, by evil and deadly doctrines like poisoned potions has corrupted and almost slain; churches where Christ lies half-buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety is put to flight, and the worship of God almost abolished; where, in short, all things are in such disorder as to present the appearance of Babylon rather than the holy city of God.
None of which Calvin proves in the least. He simply assumes as true -- without argument (at least not in the immediate context) -- every criticism that he throws out.
In one word, I call them churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain—symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy.
So far, it's not clear what exactly Calvin continues to approve of, besides Catholic baptism.
But as, on the other hand, those marks to which we ought especially to have respect in this discussion are effaced, I say that the whole body, as well as every single assembly, want the form of a legitimate Church.
Again, this is quite easy to state; far more difficult to prove, and it's even more difficult to establish that the Calvinist "church" has more legitimate biblical and historical credentials than the historic Catholic Church. When one has no compelling case to present, more often than not we get unsupported axioms, propaganda, empty rhetoric, circular reasoning, mere polemics without substance, melodramatic and grandiose statements, half-truths, put-downs, obfuscation, obscurantism, cynically selective citations (especially from the fathers, but also from Scripture), self-important jeremiads, and sophistry. I've seen all of these elements in Calvin as I reply to him, and I'm sure they will continue to appear with frequency as we proceed. Calvin is certainly capable of great subtlety and power in argumentation, but his case is only as good as it is true. Because he defends what is not (from a Catholic perspective) true, more often than not, we can readily observe the glaring weaknesses in his presentation.