Thursday, July 09, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,9:8-14) [Conciliar Authority / Proposed Conciliar Errors & Contradictions / Images & Idolatry]

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.

* * * * *

Book IV



8. Councils have authority only in so far as accordant with Scripture. Testimony of Augustine. Councils of Nice, Constantinople, and Ephesus, Subsequent Councils more impure, and to be received with limitation.

What, then, you will say, is there no authority in the definitions of councils? Yes, indeed; for I do not contend that all councils are to be condemned, and all their acts rescinded, or, as it is said, made one complete erasure.

Okay; this sounds good, and moderate, but how does it work in practice? The Council of Nicaea, for example, made certain decrees. If at length a Protestant today decides that certain of these decrees are falsehoods and insufficiently "biblical" etc., on what basis does he discard them? On his private judgment alone? If that is the case, several problems immediately arise. Why should his single opinion trump that of dozens or hundreds of bishops, as the case may be? Why should we take the opinion of the one over the opinion of the many? But granting that such a scenario is acceptable, now (very often, given internal Protestant division and doctrinal chaos) we have two individuals (say, Luther and Calvin) who reject a council and substitute something else in its place with regard to some theological particular. But they disagree as to the substitute.

Now, then, we have an ancient council that is partially rejected, on the authority of a single individual. Two such individuals might very well disagree on the solution to the "error." Whom do we choose? On what basis? Why should we assume that a lone individual has a superior interpretation of Scripture and theological tradition, over against an assembly of many learned bishops? Or if a group today (some dreaded committee of some denomination) decides to overrule Nicaea or Chalcedon, etc., why should we accept their corporate dogmatic authority more than Nicaea's or Chalcedon's (or Pope Leo the Great's)? We see, then, that it is arbitrary at every turn, and it always, inevitably logically reduces to radical individualism and doctrinal relativism, to reject the traditional understanding of Christian authority. It breaks down as soon as a few penetrating questions are asked. Calvin cannot give answer, but his followers today do scarcely better when confronted with such difficult conundrums, raised by their rule of faith.

But you are bringing them all (it will be said) under subordination, and so leaving every one at liberty to receive or reject the decrees of councils as he pleases. By no means;

To the contrary, by all means . . .

but whenever the decree of a council is produced, the first thing I would wish to be done is, to examine at what time it was held, on what occasion, with what intention, and who were present at it; next I would bring the subject discussed to the standard of Scripture.

Exactly. Calvin thus stands as judge over the council, and this contradicts what he just stated about it not being the case that "every one [is] at liberty to receive or reject the decrees of councils as he pleases." Councils declare that such-and-such a doctrine is biblical and true; Calvin says it is not. And we are supposed to bow and accept his authority as God's Oracle? And he complains about the popes having too much theological pull and power and say?

And this I would do in such a way that the decision of the council should have its weight, and be regarded in the light of a prior judgment, yet not so as to prevent the application of the test which I have mentioned.

That has all sorts of practical difficulties of application, as we shall see again and again.

I wish all had observed the method which Augustine prescribes in his Third Book against Maximinus, when he wished to silence the cavils of this heretic against the decrees of councils, “I ought not to oppose the Council of Nice to you, nor ought you to oppose that of Ariminum to me, as prejudging the question. I am not bound by the authority of the latter, nor you by that of the former. Let thing contend with thing, cause with cause, reason with reason, on the authority of Scripture, an authority not peculiar to either, but common to all.”

Yes; this was the case precisely because Augustine was talking to a heretic, who rejected the authority of Nicaea (just as Protestants selectively do with all councils). Maximinus was an Arian bishop. They had to argue from Scripture because that was what they held in common. That is exactly what I do with Protestants, who reject conciliar infallibility. As a Catholic apologist "being all things to all people," I argue from Scripture 98% of the time, because my Protestant opponents accept the authority of Holy Scripture. I do the same with Jehovah's Witnesses: today's Arians. One must either cite Scripture with them or internal inconsistencies and false prophecies in their own published works.

In this way, councils would be duly respected, and yet the highest place would be given to Scripture, everything being brought to it as a test.

The above example doesn't suffice to prove this, because it was a methodological decision by Augustine, not a rejection of the same council's authority. This is so obvious it is embarrassing to even have to point it out.

Thus those ancient Councils of Nice, Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and the like, which were held for refuting errors, we willingly embrace, and reverence as sacred, in so far as relates to doctrines of faith, for they contain nothing but the pure and genuine interpretation of Scripture, which the holy Fathers with spiritual prudence adopted to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen.

Excellent. Then we must ask: by what principle are later councils rejected? They were convoked by the same principles and authority as these earlier ones. All of a sudden what was "sacred" authority becomes the opposite? If these councils were protected by the Holy Spirit from error, then it stands to reason that others, convened in the same fashion, were also. But these councils that even Calvin reverences were orthodox because all (by mere coincidence) were confirmed by popes as orthodox.

In some later councils, also, we see displayed a true zeal for religion, and moreover unequivocal marks of genius, learning, and prudence.

Which ones?

But as matters usually become worse and worse, it is easy to see in more modern councils how much the Church gradually degenerated from the purity of that golden age.

Which ones? Which doctrines? And how do we know this with certainty?

I doubt not, however, that even in those more corrupt ages, councils had their bishops of better character.

But by his time, councils had become completely corrupt; so argues Calvin, while rarely producing hard evidences for this alleged total defection from the faith.

But it happened with them as the Roman senators of old complained in regard to their decrees. Opinions being numbered, not weighed, the better were obliged to give way to the greater number. They certainly put forth many impious sentiments. There is no need here to collect instances, both because it would be tedious, and because it has been done by others so carefully, as not to leave much to be added.

How convenient (and disappointing) . . .

9. Contradictory decisions of Councils. Those agreeing with divine truth to be received. Those at variance with it to be rejected. This confirmed by the example of the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Nice; also of the Council of Chalcedon, and second Council of Ephesus.

Moreover, why should I review the contests of council with council?

Because it is absolutely crucial to his ultimately "anti-conciliar" case.

Nor is there any ground for whispering to me, that when councils are at variance, one or other of them is not a lawful council. For how shall we ascertain this?

By seeing what Rome determines, which was always the method (most notably with Chalcedon in 451, over against the Robber Council of 449.

Just, if I mistake not, by judging from Scripture that the decrees are not orthodox.

Men disagree on that. There has to be a final say somewhere.

For this alone is the sure law of discrimination.

But impossible to implement in practical terms without binding human Church authority . . .

It is now about nine hundred years since the Council of Constantinople, convened under the Emperor Leo, determined that the images set up in temples were to be thrown down and broken to pieces. Shortly after, the Council of Nice, which was assembled by Irene, through dislike of the former, decreed that images were to be restored. Which of the two councils shall we acknowledge to be lawful? The latter has usually prevailed, and secured a place for images in churches. But Augustine maintains that this could not be done without the greatest danger of idolatry.

That was what the Mind of the Church decided. Idolatry is always a danger with some people, because it is an internal thing, and folks can always use images wrongly, in an impious or idolatrous fashion, if they so choose. That doesn't make the image wrong in and of itself, as all things can be distorted and misunderstood.

Epiphanius, at a later period, speaks much more harshly (Epist. ad Joann. Hierosolym. et Lib. 3 contra Hæres.). For he says, it is an unspeakable abomination to see images in a Christian temple.

That's odd, seeing that God Himself commanded this for His own temple. The ark of the covenant was certainly an image. It had carved cherubim (Ex 25:22; Num 7:89). God even said this is where He would meet with His people, on the mercy seat between the two cherubim (Ex 30:6). Joshua "
fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD" (Josh 7:6). Was this idolatry? The temple had huge images in it, by the express decree of God:
1 Kings 6:23-29 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. [24] Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. [25] The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. [26] The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. [27] He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; and the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. [28] And he overlaid the cherubim with gold. [29] He carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. (cf. 2 Chron 3:7; Ezek 41:20,25)
The cherubim were angels (creatures): so use of them as aids in worship is precisely of the sort that Protestants object to in the case of a statue of a saint. But God commanded it. The very holiest places in Judaism (the temple, holy of holies, ark of the covenant) had images. The Bible often mentions praying or worshiping toward the temple (e.g., 2 Chron 6:20-33; Ps 5:7; Ps 28:2; Ps 134:2) or even bowing before it (Ps 138:2) and the temple had images. The temple wasn't a plain white clapboard building, like New England Calvinist churches. Case closed. See much more on physical items as aids of worship in the Bible.

Could those who speak thus approve of that council if they were alive in
the present day? But if historians speak true, and we believe their acts, not only images themselves, but the worship of them, were there sanctioned.

The veneration of saints by means of an image is perfectly proper and biblical (as the Catholic Church has determined, lo these many centuries). See my papers:
Now it is plain that this decree emanated from Satan.

It's not "plain" in the slightest! Calvin has made a foolish, unwarranted, unbiblical conclusion that all images (not just corruption or inadequate understanding of the use of them) automatically reduce to idolatry. If that is so, then it would make God Himself a liar or incompetent judge of these matters, given the scriptural data outlined above. This was the flimsy rationale used by the early Calvinists to engage in iconoclasm and to smash stained glass and even statues of Jesus Christ, as if Catholics were worshiping plaster rather than our Lord Jesus. This is one of the most curious, odd, altogether stupid manifestations of early Calvinism. It derives far more from Islam than from Hebrew-Christian tradition or the Bible. Historically, it flourished only after the arrival of Islam, because of that religion's strong iconoclasm.

Do they not show, by corrupting and wresting Scripture, that they held it in derision?

Anyone who does this is deriding Scripture. The dispute is who are the ones doing this? If Calvin takes an absolute view against all Christian images, it is He who wars against Scripture, history, and indeed God Himself. God would be reduced to a Being Who was too dumb to know that what He Himself commanded was idolatry, and against Himself. In other words, either God wouldn't be God, or He would be a self-contradictory, wicked "god" at cross-purposes with himself.

This I have made sufficiently clear in a former part of the work (see Book I. chap. 11 sec. 14).

Not if he offered no more argument than he has here, which was virtually none at all . . .

Be this as it may, we shall never be able to distinguish between contradictory and dissenting councils, which have been many, unless we weigh them all in that balance for men and angels, I mean, the word of God.

That has already been done. Why should we renounce all this past established history of the Church and her decrees and dogmas, and now place all responsibility on upstart Calvin, and his "idol"-smashing minions? It's as if the past means absolutely nothing. All that past generations of Christians have learned, led by the Holy Spirit, can be nullified by the stroke of Calvin's mighty, All-Knowing pen.

Thus we embrace the Council of Chalcedon, and repudiate the second of Ephesus, because the latter sanctioned the impiety of Eutyches, and the former condemned it.

That is correct. And the key figure who declared as much at the time, was Pope St. Leo the Great. If it were up to the eastern bishops, the heretical Robber Council of Ephesus (449) would have been accepted as truth.

The judgment of these holy men was founded on the Scriptures, and while we follow it, we desire that the word of God, which illuminated them, may now also illuminate us. Let the Romanists now go and boast after their manner, that the Holy Spirit is fixed and tied to their councils.

We do. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 is a superb example of that. I have used Calvin's own method (recourse to Scripture) to show that his aversion to all images is most unbiblical. What does it say of Calvin's exegetical acumen if he could overlook so much plain Scripture?

10. Errors of purer Councils. Four causes of these errors. An example from the Council of Nice.

Even in their ancient and purer councils there is something to be desiderated, either because the otherwise learned and prudent men who attended, being distracted by the business in hand, did not attend to many things beside; or because, occupied with grave and more serious measures, they winked at some of lesser moment; or simply because, as men, they were deceived through ignorance, or were sometimes carried headlong by some feeling in excess.

Did I not predict not far above that Calvin's radical new anti-conciliar principle would eventually chip away at the authority of even those councils he claims to especially revere? It's happening right before our eyes as we read. Everyone understands (if this is Calvin's primary meaning) that there is human corruption in councils. The question is whether any of these human shortcomings corrupt the doctrines promulgated.

Of this last case (which seems the most difficult of all to avoid) we have a striking example in the Council of Nice, which has been unanimously received, as it deserves, with the utmost veneration. For when the primary article of our faith was there in peril, and Arius, its enemy, was present, ready to engage any one in combat, and it was of the utmost moment that those who had come to attack Arius should be agreed, they nevertheless, feeling secure amid all these dangers, nay, as it were, forgetting their gravity, modesty, and politeness, laying aside the discussion which was before them (as if they had met for the express purpose of gratifying Arius), began to give way to intestine dissensions, and turn the pen, which should have been employed against Arius, against each other. Foul accusations were heard, libels flew up and down, and they never would have ceased from their contention until they had stabbed each other with mutual wounds, had not the Emperor Constantine interfered, and declaring that the investigation of their lives was a matter above his cognisance, repressed their intemperance by flattery rather than censure.

This is exactly what I referred to: human flaws and shortcomings were present, but they did not pervert the doctrinal decrees. The same thing applies to the more notoriously immoral popes. God manages to overcome these things by His power and providence.

In how many respects is it probable that councils, held subsequently to this, have erred?

In hundreds of respects, but for the supernatural protection from God, which is the entire point.

Nor does the fact stand in need of a long demonstration; any one who reads their acts will observe many infirmities, not to use a stronger term.

No argument or particulars offered; so I'll pass . . .

11. Another example from the Council of Chalcedon. The same errors in Provincial Councils.

Even Leo, the Roman Pontiff, hesitates not to charge the Council of Chalcedon, which he admits to be orthodox in its doctrines, with ambition and inconsiderate rashness.

Just one part of it, where Constantinople is placed on a level with Rome. Leo vetoed that, saying that Constantinople can never be made an apostolic see. It's history was very recent. Popes were needed to oversee and rule as out of order the mere political pretensions and machinations of men.

He denies not that it was lawful, but openly maintains that it might have erred.

That's why we Catholics believe that ecumenical councils are only valid insofar as the pope agrees to all their decrees.

Some may think me foolish in labouring to point out errors of this description, since my opponents admit that councils may err in things not necessary to salvation.


My labour, however, is not superfluous. For although compelled, they admit this in word, yet by obtruding upon us the determination of all councils, in all matters without distinction, as the oracles of the Holy Spirit, they exact more than they had at the outset assumed.

Some Catholics may be guilty of this; sure. They are wrong.

By thus acting what do they maintain but just that councils cannot err, of if they err, it is unlawful for us to perceive the truth, or refuse assent to their errors?

We claim more for ecumenical councils, not every council whatever. Like the fathers, we accept the received apostolic tradition, as manifest in such councils and made binding.

At the same time, all I mean to infer from what I have said is, that though councils, otherwise pious and holy, were governed by the Holy Spirit, he yet allowed them to share the lot of humanity, lest we should confide too much in men.

That argument doesn't work, since many of the Bible writers were great sinners, too (especially David and Paul). Calvin doesn't conclude that the Bible is questionable because of that. In both instances it is God's protection that overcomes these limitations.

This is a much better view than that of Gregory Nanzianzen, who says (Ep. 55), that he never saw any council end well. In asserting that all, without exception, ended ill, he leaves them little authority.

I tried to locate this but the "Epistle 55"I found had nothing to do with this and was rather short. Without more information, I can't comment further.

There is no necessity for making separate mention of provincial councils, since it is easy to estimate, from the case of general councils, how much authority they ought to have in framing articles of faith, and deciding what kind of doctrine is to be received.

Obviously, more local councils have less general authority.

12. Evasion of the Papists. Three answers. Conclusion of the discussion as to the power of the Church in relation to doctrine.

But our Romanists, when, in defending their cause, they see all rational grounds slip from beneath them, betake themselves to a last miserable subterfuge.

What miserable creatures we are . . . without Calvin's paternal guidance we would all surely be lost!

Although they should be dull in intellect and counsel, and most depraved in heart and will, still the word of the Lord remains, which commands us to obey those who have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17). Is it indeed so? What if I should deny that those who act thus have the rule over us? They ought not to claim for themselves more than Joshua had, who was both a prophet of the Lord and an excellent pastor. Let us then hear in what terms the Lord introduced him to his office. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:7, 8). Our spiritual rulers, therefore, will be those who turn not from the law of the Lord to the right hand or the left. But if the doctrine of all pastors is to be received without hesitation, why are we so often and so anxiously admonished by the Lord not to give heed to false prophets? “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you; they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (Jer. 23:16). Again, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Mt. 7:15). In vain also would John exhort us to try the spirits whether they be of God (1 John 4:1). From this judgment not even angels are exempted (Gal. 1:8); far less Satan with his lies. And what is meant by the expression, “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”? (Mt. 15:14) Does it not sufficiently declare that there is a great difference among the pastors who are to be heard, that all are not to be heard indiscriminately?

This has all been dealt with previously; not too far above.

Wherefore they have no ground for deterring us by their name, in order to draw us into a participation of their blindness, since we see, on the contrary, that the Lord has used special care to guard us from allowing ourselves to be led away by the errors of others, whatever be the mask under which they may lurk.

This, of course, assumes that the Catholics are wrong. Calvin gives no immediate argument as to why or how, so there can be no cogent reply till he does so.

For if the answer of our Saviour is true, blind guides, whether high priests, prelates, or pontiffs, can do nothing more than hurry us over the same precipice with themselves.

That's right: it's Christ vs. virtually all Catholic clergymen. Calvin's world is one of neat little, well-defined categories: packages all wrapped up in a bow. Catholics are the bad guys and Protestants the noble heroes of the faith and restorers of the gospel.

Wherefore, let no names of councils, pastors, and bishops (which may be used on false pretences as well as truly), hinder us from giving heed to the evidence both of words and facts, and bringing all spirits to the test of the divine word, that we may prove whether they are of God.

Nice rhetoric, but little argument . . .

13. Last part of the chapter. Power of the Church in interpreting Scripture. From what source interpretation is to be derived. Means of preserving unity in the Church.

Having proved that no power was given to the Church to set up any new doctrine,

Which Catholics fully agree with . . .

let us now treat of the power attributed to them in the interpretation of Scripture. We readily admit, that when any doctrine is brought under discussion, there is not a better or surer remedy than for a council of true bishops to meet and discuss the controverted point. There will be much more weight in a decision of this kind, to which the pastors of churches have agreed in common after invoking the Spirit of Christ, than if each, adopting it for himself, should deliver it to his people, or a few individuals should meet in private and decide.

Excellent. Would that Calvin and his followers would live more consistently by this sentiment.

Secondly, When bishops have assembled in one place, they deliberate more conveniently in common, fixing both the doctrine and the form of teaching it, lest diversity give offence.

Very true.

Thirdly, Paul prescribes this method of determining doctrine. For when he gives the power of deciding to a single church, he shows what the course of procedure should be in more important cases—namely, that the churches together are to take common cognisance. And the very feeling of piety tells us, that if any one trouble the Church with some novelty in doctrine, and the matter be carried so far that there is danger of a greater dissension, the churches should first meet, examine the question, and at length, after due discussion, decide according to Scripture, which may both put an end to doubt in the people, and stop the mouths of wicked and restless men, so as to prevent the matter from proceeding farther.

Amen! Again, Calvin will say true and wonderful things, as in these last few sections, but then contradict himself later by appealing to a more strict individualist Christian epistemology and doctrinal / ecclesiological structure.

Thus when Arius arose, the Council of Nice was convened, and by its authority both crushed the wicked attempts of this impious man, and restored peace to the churches which he had vexed, and asserted the eternal divinity of Christ in opposition to his sacrilegious dogma.

Indeed it did, along with the Roman See, which was in the vanguard against Arianism.

Thereafter, when Eunomius and Macedonius raised new disturbances, their madness was met with a similar remedy by the Council of Constantinople; the impiety of Nestorius was defeated by the Council of Ephesus. In short, this was from the first the usual method of preserving unity in the Church whenever Satan commenced his machinations. But let us remember, that all ages and places are not favoured with an Athanasius, a Basil, a Cyril, and like vindicators of sound doctrine, whom the Lord then raised up.

Sadly true; other ages are blessed with schismatics and partial heretics like Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Bullinger, Oecolampadius, Beza, Cranmer, and the Anabaptists.

Nay, let us consider what happened in the second Council of Ephesus when the Eutychian heresy prevailed. Flavianus, of holy memory, with some pious men, was driven into exile, and many similar crimes were committed, because, instead of the Spirit of the Lord, Dioscorus, a factious man, of a very bad disposition, presided. But the Church was not there. I admit it; for I always hold that the truth does not perish in the Church though it be oppressed by one council, but is wondrously preserved by the Lord to rise again, and prove victorious in his own time. I deny, however, that every interpretation of Scripture is true and certain which has received the votes of a council.

So do we. It has to be a legitimate council in harmony with the pope, and intend to issue a binding decree on faith and morals. There were many illegitimate councils, too. Ephesus in 449 was the supreme example of that. Almost the entire east was prepared to accept it. But the west and the papacy prevailed to maintain orthodoxy. With the advent of Protestantism, sadly, the course of orthodoxy was not so fortunate.

14. Impudent attempt of the Papists to establish their tyranny refuted. Things at variance with Scripture sanctioned by their Councils. Instance in the prohibition of marriage and communion in both kinds.

But the Romanists have another end in view when they say that the power of interpreting Scripture belongs to councils, and that without challenge. For they employ it as a pretext for giving the name of an interpretation of Scripture to everything which is determined in councils. Of purgatory, the intercession of saints, and auricular confession, and the like, not one syllable can be found in Scripture.

This is massively untrue:

Biblical Evidence For Invocation of Angels For Intercessory Purposes / Asking For Dead Men's Intercession, and Their Prayers For Us
Biblical Evidence for Purgatory: 25 Bible Passages

Biblical Evidence For Purgatory and Analogous Processes (50 Passages)

Biblical Evidence for Formal Forgiveness of Sins and Absolution (Confession)
But as all these have been sanctioned by the authority of the Church, or, to speak more correctly, have been received by opinion and practice, every one of them is to be held as an interpretation of Scripture. And not only so, but whatever a council has determined against Scripture is to have the name of an interpretation.

Individuals can just as easily declare that their view is the "biblical" one. Calvin does this all the time. I do it myself (most people who do any theology at all, do it), but the difference is that I submit my judgments to that of the Church, and where I differ from the Church, I submit my understanding to her.

Christ bids all drink of the cup which he holds forth in the Supper. The Council of Constance prohibited the giving of it to the people, and determined that the priest alone should drink. Though this is diametrically opposed to the institution of Christ (Mt. 26:26), they will have it to be regarded as his interpretation.

There is a straightforward biblical argument for it, right from St. Paul: Biblical Evidence for the Distribution of One Species in Holy Communion.

Paul terms the prohibition of marriage a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:1, 3); and the Spirit elsewhere declares that “marriage is honourable in all” (Heb. 13:4).

Paul also assumes and defends celibacy in those who want to fully devote themselves to the Lord:

Clerical Celibacy: The Biblical Rationale

The Irrational Antipathy of Luther, Calvin, and Other Protestants to Clerical Celibacy
Having afterwards interdicted their priests from marriage, they insist on this as a true and genuine interpretation of Scripture, though nothing can be imagined more alien to it.

It's plain as day in 1 Corinthians 7. Jesus also refers to "eunuchs" for the sake of the kingdom.

Should any one venture to open his lips in opposition, he will be judged a heretic, since the determination of the Church is without challenge,

That is, the Church, in direct accordance with plain words of our Lord Jesus and St. Paul . . .

and it is unlawful to have any doubt as to the accuracy of her interpretation.

Not if it is a tradition that has historical and biblical pedigree . . .

Why should I assail such effrontery? to point to it is to condemn it. Their dogma with regard to the power of approving Scripture I intentionally omit. For to subject the oracles of God in this way to the censure of men, and hold that they are sanctioned because they please men, is a blasphemy which deserves not to be mentioned.

Scripture always has to be interpreted by men. The only question is who will do this, and how binding it will be.

Besides, I have already touched upon it (Book 1 chap. 7; 8 sec. 9). I will ask them one question, however. If the authority of Scripture is founded on the approbation of the Church,

It is not. It is what it is, prior to the Church's approval:

Does the Catholic Church Think it is Superior to the Bible, and its Creator?

The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It Or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It?
will they quote the decree of a council to that effect? I believe they cannot.

Of course not, because it is not what we believe.

Why, then, did Arius allow himself to be vanquished at the Council of Nice by passages adduced from the Gospel of John?

Because the Gospel of John is quite sufficient to refute Arianism.

According to these, he was at liberty to repudiate them, as they had not previously been approved by any general council. They allege an old catalogue, which they call the Canon, and say that it originated in a decision of the Church. But I again ask, In what council was that Canon published?

The councils of Carthage in 393 and 397.

Here they must be dumb.


Besides, I wish to know what they believe that Canon to be.

The legitimate, genuine, inspired books of the Bible.

For I see that the ancients are little agreed with regard to it.

All the more reason for an authoritative Church to acknowledge what the canon is and to end the discussion. Bingo!

If effect is to be given to what Jerome says (Præf. in Lib. Solom.), the Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, and the like, must take their place in the Apocrypha: but this they will not tolerate on any account.

St. Jerome submitted his judgment to that of the Church: just as every good Catholic does. Catholicism is not a "magisterium of scholars and Bible commentators" but of priests, bishops, councils, and popes.


Ken Temple said...

Three good short videos on why Calvin is so controversial:

jacob said...

If you want to read about John Calvin from the Jewish perspective and his assault against the true messiah of Israel Marcus Julius Agrippa read Stephan Huller's blog entry at entitled 'the Day of John Calvin the accursed, may his bones be ground into dust.' It will help round your opinion of this accursed man.

May his bones truly be ground into dust.


Dave Armstrong said...

True Messiah? Huh? That would be Jesus . . .

Ben M said...

Why is the ignoramus and dictator Calvin so controversial? Numerous reasons.

With regard to his police state, Geneva, Protestant historian Preserved Smith writes:

The city was divided into quarters, and some of the elders visited every house at least once a year and passed in review the whole life, actions, speech, and opinions of the inmates.

The houses of the citizens were made of glass; and the vigilant eye of the Consistory, served by a multitude of spies, was on them all the time. In a way this espionage but took the place of the Catholic confessional. A joke, a gesture was enough to bring a man under suspicion. The Elders sat as a regular court, hearing complaints and examining witnesses. It is true that they could inflict only spiritual punishments, such as public censure, penance, excommunication, or forcing the culprit to demand pardon in church on his knees.

But when the Consistory thought necessary, it could invoke the aid of the civil courts and the judgment was seldom doubtful. Among the capital crimes were adultery, blasphemy, witchcraft, and heresy.

Punishments for all offences were astonishingly and increasingly heavy. During the years 1542-6 there were, in this little town of 16,000 people no less than fifty-eight executions and seventy-six banishments. Pp. 170-171.

If we ask how much was actually accomplished by this minute regulation accompanied by extreme severity in the enforcement of morals various answers are given. When the Italian reformer Bernardino Occhino visited Geneva in 1542 he testified that cursing and swearing, unchastity and sacrilege were unknown; that there were neither lawsuits nor simony nor murder nor party spirit, but that universal benevolence prevailed.

Again in 1556 John Knox said that Geneva was

“the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles.”

“In other places,” he continued, “I confess Christ to be truly preached, but manners and religion so sincerely reformed I have not seen in any besides.”

But if we turn from these personal to an examination of the acts of the Consistory we get a very different impression. The records of Geneva show more cases of vice after than before the Reformation. P. 174.

The minutes of the trial are painful reading. It was conducted on both sides with unbecoming violence. Among other expressions used by Calvin the public prosecutor were these that he regarded Servetus's defence as no better than the braying of an ass, and that the prisoner was like a villainous cur wiping his muzzle. Servetus answered in the same tone his spirit unbroken by abuse and by his confinement in a horrible dungeon, where he suffered from hunger, cold, vermin, and disease.

He was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to be burnt with slow fire Calvin said that he tried to alter the manner of execution but there is not a shred of evidence in the minutes of the trial or elsewhere that he did so Possibly if he made the request it was purely formal as were similar petitions for mercy made by the Roman inquisitors. P. Smith, P. 178.

Strengthened by his victory over heresy Calvin now had the chance to annihilate his opponents. On May 15 1555 he accused a number of them of treason and provided proof by ample use of the rack.

With the party of Libertines completely broken, Calvin ruled from this time forth with a rod of iron. The new Geneva was so cowed and subservient that the town council dared not install a new sort of heating apparatus without asking the permission of the theocrat. But a deep rancor smoldered under the surface.

“Our incomparable theologian Calvin” wrote Ambrose Blaurer to Bullinger, “labors under such hatred of some whom he obscures by his light that he is considered the worst of heretics by them.”
Ibid, p. 179.

The Age of the Reformation, Preserved Smith, Published, H. Holt and Company, 1920

Ken Temple said...

“The Servetus execution by Geneva and argument against Calvin and Reformed theology is brought by Roman Catholics who conveniently forget that Servetus was only in Geneva after escaping imprisonment by the RC's and was slated to be executed by them.
(or by a RC state anyway)

“As to the objection itself, we have to remember that Calvin was a man of his time. In addition, at this time in his life, he wasn't even in power in Geneva. No, he was in disfavor. In addition, Servetus was a known anti-Trinitarian heretic. His death was legal not only in Geneva but everywhere else in Europe. Calvin actually argued that his execution be merciful. Ah, but shouldn't he have opposed his execution? What good would it have done? He had no power to condemn him or save him.

Ah, but doesn't this speak to the character of Calvin? Well, if it does, does it prove that he was immoral or does it prove that he was a man of great mercy? Yes, he agreed with the decision of Geneva. So did all the religious and secular powers of that century, so if it proves Calvin was immoral, it also proves they were all immoral, secular and sacred alike. On the other hand, he pleaded with Servetus for him to recant. He also pleaded the council to make the mode of his execution quick. He was ignored. What's more, he prayed with Servetus and ministered to him in prison, in accordance with that particular axiom of the religion Calvin professed.”

Compiled from Reformed bloggers who seek to answer the attacks against Calvin using the Servetus affair.

Ken Temple said...

Where does Jerome submit his views to the Church of his day and retract his view that the Aprocypha is not "God-breathed" ??

to submit to the RCC means one would have to retract their opinion or judgment, if the church disagrees with it; right?

Ben M said...

Dave wrote:

“St. Jerome submitted his judgment to that of the Church: just as every good Catholic does. Catholicism is not a "magisterium of scholars and Bible commentators" but of priests, bishops, councils, and popes.”

Very true! And all the approved Doctors and saints of the Church have humbly submitted to the authority of the Church. They understood all too well that, despite whatever degree of learning and holiness they might attain, they remained, nonetheless, fallible human beings, and that it was the Church, ever guided and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, to which they must ultimately give their assent.

Pope Pius XII, in an address to the Jesuit theologians at the Gregorian University in Rome, spoke of this important truth:

"The Church has never accepted even the most holy and most eminent Doctor, and does not now accept even a single one of them, as the principal source of truth. The Church certainly considers Thomas and Augustine great Doctors, and she accords them the highest praise; but she recognizes infallibility only in the inspired authors of the Sacred Scriptures. By divine mandate, the interpreter and guardian of the Sacred Scriptures, depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation; she alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Ghost, is the source of truth."

Allocution to the Gregorian University, Oct. 17, 1953. (AAS, XLV (1953), p. 689.)

AAS: Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Acts of the Apostolic See).

"Allocution of Pope Pius XII,” Franciscan studies, Franciscan Institute (St. Bonaventure University), Franciscan Educational Conference, vol. 14, 1954, p. 206.

(Snippet view)

Discovered these words of Pius XII in a small paperback (159 pages) entitled:

The Church of Salvation, Brother Leonard Mary, M.I.C.M., Charlemagne Press, Arcadia, CA. (with Little Jon Press of Santa Monica, CA.), 1984, 1997, p. 43.

(Just a little personal aside. I had the pleasure of meeting Br. Leonard and his young companion (Charles Coulombe) a good many years ago. They traveled a bit in those days, and when passing through my neck of the woods, would often stop by for a short visit).

In the Forward (p. 7), Br. Leonard writes:

"Everything in this book is humbly submitted to the judgment and approval of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ on earth."

Ken Temple said...

You quoted a lot from Pius XII, and other modern writers, but you did not show a quote from Jerome himself, during his life time, where he submitted his judgment on the Apocrypha to the church of his day and repented and recanted of his view.

Ben M said...

Hi Ken. So good to hear from you!

Now whether or not Jerome changed his personal views on the Apocrypha at some point is, I think, somewhat irrelevant.

What is relevant, is that he ultimately submitted his personal judgments to the the Apostolic See, as I think the following clearly indicate.

“The second Father which Bellarmine cites is St. Jerome: His words are: ‘The Roman faith commended by the apostle, admits not such praestigias, 'deceits and delusions,' into it, though an angel should preach it otherwise than it was preached at first, (and) being armed and fenced by St. Paul's authority, cannot be changed.’” [26].

Footnote 26 reads:

“Attamen scito Romanam fidem Apostolica voce laudatam, istiusmodi, praestigias non recipere, etiam si Angelus aliter annunciet, quam semel praedicatum est, Pauli auctoritate munitam non posse mutari. [Know however that the Roman faith, preached by the voice of an Apostle, does not accept such delusions even if an angel should proclaim a change in that which has been already preached, for it rests on the authority of Paul and cannot be moved.]—S. Hieron. lib. iii. Apol. contra Rufinum, tom. ii. fol. 84, K. ed. Paris, 1534. [adv. Rufin. lib. iii. Op., tom. iv. par. ii. col. 449, ed. Benedict.]”

A relation of the conference between William Laud, late lord archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Fisher the Jesuit, London, Macmillan & Co., 1901, p 11.

Newadvent has:

“But let me tell you that the faith of Rome which was praised by the voice of an Apostle, does not recognize tricks of this kind. A faith which has been guaranteed by the authority of an Apostle cannot be changed though an Angel should announce another gospel than that which he preached.” Apology Against Rufinus, Book III, 12.

Another work says:

St. Jerome called the greatest expounder of the Bible wrote to Pope Damasus:

“I hold fast to the Chair of Peter, upon whom the church is built. Decide as you please. If you order, I shall not hesitate in my belief in three hypostaces.” (Three Persons in God).

“If any one is firm in his allegiance to the Chair of Peter, he is of my mind, for I hold with the successor of the fisherman.” (St. Jerome in the year 420).

“The Roman Church cannot hold error, even if an angel should come to teach it.” (Contra Rufinus).

Christ’s Kingdom on Earth: or, The Church and Her Divine Constitution, Organization, and Framework, Explained for the People, 1891, Rev. James L. Meagher, New York, Christian Press Association, p. 158.

And last but certainly not least, Jerome, in his Preface to the Vulgate, refers to Pope Damasus as "you who are the supreme bishop."

Preface to the Four Gospels. Addressed to Pope Damasus, a.d. 383.

Now in light of the above, does it not seem rather unlikely that St. Jerome would've ever opposed his personal opinions on the Canon to the bishop of Rome, or to any other bishop for that matter?!

Give it some reflection.

God bless!

“As a problem in general and in all its aspects, authority is the ultimate stumbling block upon which all ecumenical efforts founder."

Robert B. Eno, The Rise of the Papacy, 1990, p. 150.

Ken Temple said...

“But let me tell you that the faith of Rome which was praised by the voice of an Apostle, does not recognize tricks of this kind. A faith which has been guaranteed by the authority of an Apostle cannot be changed though an Angel should announce another gospel than that which he preached.” Apology Against Rufinus, Book III, 12.

This is the authority of the apostles, confirmed by the "faith of Rome" - this; and the other quotes only say that on the issue of the Trinity and the three hypostasis, the church at Rome agrees with the apostolic deposit (the Scriptures and the right interpretation which on the issue of the Trinity was right.) These statements have nothing to do with the Apocrypha. You showed nothing relevant to the issue.


Also, all the bishops were understood as "holding to the Chair of Peter". We also do that, as we hold to the confession of faith of Peter, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God". Cyprian, Firmillian, Athanasius, and Protestants hold to the chair of Peter, the unity of the faith. The problem is the RCC making that mean more than it originally meant. Has nothing to do with the church in Rome as a separate and higher authority and in a jurisdictional sense.

And nothing you wrote here had anything to do with the issue of the Apocrypha and you did not show that Jerome submitted and recanting of that.

You are calling it "his personal opinion". You can call everything that when it disagrees with the RCC dogma developed centuries later.

Ben M said...


These statements have nothing to do with the Apocrypha. You showed nothing relevant to the issue.

On the contrary, Jerome’s recognition of a greater and higher authority than himself (in the Church) should be very much relevant to the issue.

Also, all the bishops were understood as "holding to the Chair of Peter". We also do that, as we hold to the confession of faith of Peter, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God".

An incredible statement! Does your church even have a bishop? If so, can you show a line of succession from the apostles?

Cyprian, Firmillian, Athanasius, and Protestants hold to the chair of Peter, the unity of the faith.

Another incredible statement! Name a single Father who held any but the bishop of Rome as the legitimate heir and rightful occupant of the “Chair of Peter.”

The problem is the RCC making that mean more than it originally meant.

But Protestants with ZERO authority do know what it means??

Has nothing to do with the church in Rome as a separate and higher authority and in a jurisdictional sense.

Rome has real, legitimate authority, but we would not say its authority is something “separate” or apart from that of the other bishops, but rather, that it is exercised in union with them.

How very different Geneva, with its wicked dictator / tyrant (Calvin) lording it over his helpless dictatees / tyrantees!

How much of a dictator / tyrant you ask? Well, what Pope, for example, ever incinerated someone simply for singing a song not meeting with his approval? Frightful!

You are calling it "his personal opinion". You can call everything that when it disagrees with the RCC dogma developed centuries later.

But Ken, when all is said and done, it was his personal opinion! Or do you suppose it was for Jerome himself to decide the Canon?? Perhaps you’re confusing Jerome with that other 16th cent. dictator, Luther, who said with his usual bravado: “My doctrines will stand, and the Pope will fall” (or, “My teachings will stand, and the Pope will fall”). “Dogmata mea stabunt, et Papa cadet.”
(Martinus Lutherus contra Henricum Regem Angliæ (Martin Luther against Henry King of England), September, 1522).

Further, why do you yourself follow men (Luther, Calvin, et al) whose teachings and dogmas "developed centuries later?"

But in any event, getting back to Jerome vis a vis the apocrypha. Perhaps this from Wikipedia will interest you.

Development of the Old Testament canon :

“Michael Barber asserts that, although Jerome was once suspicious of the apocrypha, he later viewed them as Scripture. Barber argues that this is clear from Jerome's epistles. As an example, Barber cites Jerome's letter to Eustochium, in which Jerome quotes Sirach 13:2. [4], elsewhere Jerome also refers to Baruch, the Story of Susannah and Wisdom as scripture.[12][13][14]

“Jerome expressed some uneasiness about the authority of the Apocrypha. He was in general agreement with the Jewish position and separated the extra books found in the Septuagint, which he admitted could be edifying, from the Jewish canon….

“Jerome's views did not prevail, and in A.D. 393 at the Synod of Hippo, the Septuagint was canonized, largely because of the influence of Augustine of Hippo.[18] Later in 397, the Synod of Carthage confirmed the action taken at Hippo, once again, due to the significant influence exerted by Augustine. These councils were under the authority of Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed. [19][20]”

God bless.
"Cease, then, to bring forward against us the authority of Cyprian in favor of repeating baptism, but cling with us to the example of Cyprian for the preservation of unity. For this question of baptism had not been as yet completely worked out [by the Church]..."

Augustine,On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book II, 7, 13.