Friday, September 11, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,12:1-13) [Church Discipline / Genevan Autocracy / Penance (in Effect) / Sinners and the Church]

St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, where Calvin preached. It, too, was raped and desecrated by the "Reformers": as were many Catholic cathedrals in European countries during the 16th century.

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



1. Of the power of the keys, or the common discipline of the Church. Necessity and very great utility of this discipline.

The discipline of the Church, the consideration of which has been deferred till now, must be briefly explained, that we may be able to pass to other matters. Now discipline depends in a very great measure on the power of the keys and on spiritual jurisdiction.

And let us note once again that the "keys" were only given to St. Peter in Scripture (Matthew 16:19): a fact that Calvin continually glosses over. He also ignores the Old Testament background of this phraseology: a thing that has been amply dealt with by modern Protestant Bible scholars; it in turn indicates strong "papal" aspects.

That this may be more easily understood, let us divide the Church into two principal classes—viz. clergy and people. The term clergy I use in the common acceptation for those who perform a public ministry in the Church. We shall speak first of the common discipline to which all ought to be subject, and then proceed to the clergy, who have besides that common discipline one peculiar to themselves. But as some, from hatred of discipline, are averse to the very name, for their sake we observe,—If no society, nay, no house with even a moderate family, can be kept in a right state without discipline, much more necessary is it in the Church, whose state ought to be the best ordered possible.


Hence as the saving doctrine of Christ is the life of the Church, so discipline is, as it were, its sinews; for to it it is owing that the members of the body adhere together, each in its own place. Wherefore, all who either wish that discipline were abolished, or who impede the restoration of it, whether they do this of design or through thoughtlessness, certainly aim at the complete devastation of the Church. For what will be the result if every one is allowed to do as he pleases? But this must happen if to the preaching of the gospel are not added private admonition, correction, and similar methods of maintaining doctrine, and not allowing it to become lethargic. Discipline, therefore, is a kind of curb to restrain and tame those who war against the doctrine of Christ, or it is a kind of stimulus by which the indifferent are aroused; sometimes, also, it is a kind of fatherly rod, by which those who have made some more grievous lapse are chastised in mercy with the meekness of the spirit of Christ. Since, then, we already see some beginnings of a fearful devastation in the Church from the total want of care and method in managing the people, necessity itself cries aloud that there is need of a remedy. Now the only remedy is this which Christ enjoins, and the pious have always had in use.

It is useful to remember that Calvin's concerns about anarchy have to do with the proliferating Protestant sects of his period; particularly the Anabaptists. As always, neither he nor Luther will face the rather obvious fact that their new principles of authority (sola Scriptura, private judgment, no infallibility, no apostolic succession as previously always understood, no bishops, no popes, no ecumenical councils, disdain of apostolic tradition, etc.) directly led to these developments. Whether they were aware of that or not, Protestants today continue to live with the consequences and continue to be unable to do anything about continuing scandalous sectarianism and hundreds, thousands of competing denominations.

As I have always argued, this is, in effect (or at the very least as a consistent logical reduction), ecclesiological anarchism and theological relativism, since there are abundant contradictions entailed. Denominations are unknown in Holy Scripture, where it is taught that there is one Church. Period. End of question. Denominations are the very thing that ultimately makes consistent, effective discipline impossible in Protestant circles. The "disciplined" one simply has to leave and go to another denomination that will accept him in his sin, or even (as a special bonus), think his or her sin is no sin at all (e.g., abortion, unlawful divorce, sodomy, cohabitation, contraception; on and on). Most of the major Protestant denominations are now of such a mind. What was once grave sin (for Luther and Calvin and millions of subsequent Protestants throughout history and today; particularly in non-western countries) are now legitimate "lifestyle choices" that ought to be respected and sanctioned by church and civil law alike.

2. Its various degrees. 1. Private admonition. 2. Rebukes before witnesses. 3. Excommunication.

The first foundation of discipline is to provide for private admonition; that is, if any one does not do his duty spontaneously, or behaves insolently, or lives not quite honestly, or commits something worthy of blame, he must allow himself to be admonished; and every one must study to admonish his brother when the case requires. Here especially is there occasion for the vigilance of pastors and presbyters, whose duty is not only to preach to the people, but to exhort and admonish from house to house, whenever their hearers have not profited sufficiently by general teaching; as Paul shows, when he relates that he taught “publicly, and from house to house,” and testifies that he is “pure from the blood of all men,” because he had not shunned to declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 26, 27) Then does doctrine obtain force and authority, not only when the minister publicly expounds to all what they owe to Christ, but has the right and means of exacting this from those whom he may observe to be sluggish or disobedient to his doctrine. Should any one either perversely reject such admonitions, or by persisting in his faults, show that he contemns them, the injunction of Christ is, that after he has been a second time admonished before witnesses, he is to be summoned to the bar of the Church, which is the consistory of elders, and there admonished more sharply, as by public authority, that if he reverence the Church he may submit and obey (Mt. 18:15, 17). If even in this way he is not subdued, but persists in his iniquity, he is then, as a despiser of the Church, to be debarred from the society of believers.

In theory, this sounds okay, and commendable, but if we look at the actual practice of what occurred in Geneva under Calvin's watch, it looks far less agreeable, and more like a police state or dictatorship. Here are accounts of what it was like in Geneva from four Church historians:
    Geneva at this period experienced a moral dictatorship such as has scarcely a parallel in history. It had begun at the time of Calvin's return in 1541, but it went on perfecting itself all the time. The police or 'guardians' watched everything, even the most intimate details of men's private lives. Anyone thinking evil thoughts or doing evil things was punished with brotherly ferocity.There was prison for those who liked dancing . . . enjoyed drinking . . . cardplayers . . . Barbers were forbidden to tonsure priests passing through the city, and jewellers prevented from fashioning chalices. Both these offences were punishable by hanging. It was regarded as a confession of blasphemy and heresy to murmur 'rest in peace' over the grave of a dear departed . . . Two small children were beaten with rods for having eaten two rounds of cake on leaving Church, and another young ragamuffin was nearly beheaded because he returned a box on the ears given him by his mother . . .
    It is common knowledge that dictatorships inevitably end by seeking to regulate every single thing.
    (Henri Daniel-Rops, The Protestant Reformation, vol. II, translated by Audrey Butler, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1961,180,194-196)
    There were, of course, the five weekly sermons which all must attend . . . The fashion of dress and of shoes . . . was regulated, and the women's hair styles also . . . Needless to say, every least sign of the old religion was most rigorously forbidden . . . Anabaptists were banished, with death as the penalty should they return. The rare atheist . . . was put to death, tortured and beheaded. The heretic was burned . . . Few crimes were more swiftly and decisively punished than that of contradicting the master's teaching. Intellectual give-and-take had no place in Geneva . . . Even to say that Calvin was not a good preacher could mean prison . . .Naturally there was a censorship of books -- even Bullinger, Against the Anabaptists, was forbidden . . . Real sins, of course, were dealt with mercilessly . . . And the inquisition dreamed of from the beginning became a reality. Twice a year a commission of ministers and elders descended on every house in the town to see that all was well and godly . . . All this was entered in a huge register, with notes against the name, 'pious,' 'lukewarm,' 'corrupt.' . . . Add to this the immense body of the pious who voluntarily spied on their neighbours and even drew them on in talk until they tripped.

(Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Reformation, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1957, 234-235)

Early in 1543 Calvin recodified the temporal law of the city; by then it was clear that he was aiming at full fusion of the spiritual and temporal order in Geneva. By 1545 he had extended the jurisdiction of the Consistory to wholly private acts. When in January 1546 Pierre Ameaux, a member of the Little Council of Geneva, criticized Calvin at a supper party in his own home, Calvin demanded that he be punished by the government. On March 2 the Council of Two Hundred ordered Ameaux to appear before it in Calvin's presence and ask pardon on his knees "of God, the government, and Calvin" -- a punishment which Calvin condemned as insufficient. Obediently the Council reconsidered its sentence, and ordered Ameaux to walk all around the city carrying a lighted torch, bareheaded and dressed only in his shirt, three times falling on his knees and begging for mercy. A gallows was set up in front of his home to remind him of his likely fate if he continued to be contumacious. On March 21 Ami Perrin, who had been a leading supporter of Calvin, and his vivacious and outspoken wife Franchequine were imprisoned for dancing at a wedding. . . . Franchequine Perrin defied Calvin to his face, causing him to declare her "in contempt of God." In July Calvin and his ministers prohibited all theatrical productions in Geneva, a decree which remained in effect for decades. In November Calvin drew up a list of acceptable Christian names for children and prohibited children whose names were not on his list from receiving baptism.

(Warren H. Carroll, The Cleaving of Christendom, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 2000, 211-212)

The Consistory began its work promptly. No age or distinction exempted one from its censures. Men and women were examined as to their religious knowledge, their criticisms of ministers, their absences from sermons . . . their family quarrels, as well as to more serious offences . . . against a goldsmith for making a chalice . . . against a barber for tonsuring a priest; for declaring the pope to be a good man; making a noise during the sermon; laughing during preaching; criticising Geneva for putting a man to death on account of differences in religion . . or singing a song defamatory to Calvin. Of course these instances are illustrative of only the more curious part of the work. It had to do, much of the time, with offences which any age would deem serious; but they exhibit its minute and inquisitorial interference with the lives of the people of Geneva.

(Williston Walker, John Calvin, New York, Schocken Books, 1969; originally 1906, 281-282, citing primary sources: Registres du Consistoire, 1542, in Opera, xxi. 292-305; 1550-1551, ibid., pp. 466, 489, 506; 1556, 1557, ibid., 653, 657, 664, 669; 1558, 1559, ibid., pp. 700-701, 712, 723. See also Walker, pp. 276-277, 283, 295-297, 301-304, 306, 309-310; Francois Wendel, Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963, pp. 83-89. All five of these books are in my possession)

3. Different degrees of delinquency. Modes of procedure in both kinds of chastisement.

But as our Saviour is not there speaking of secret faults merely, we must attend to the distinction that some sins are private, others public or openly manifest. Of the former, Christ says to every private individual, “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Mt. 18:15). Of open sins Paul says to Timothy, “Those that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). Our Saviour had previously used the words, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee” This clause, unless you would be captious, you cannot understand otherwise than, If this happens in a manner known to yourself, others not being privy to it. The injunction which Paul gave to Timothy to rebuke those openly who sin openly, he himself followed with Peter (Gal. 2:14). For when Peter sinned so as to give public offence, he did not admonish him apart, but brought him forward in face of the Church. The legitimate course, therefore, will be to proceed in correcting secret faults by the steps mentioned by Christ, and in open sins, accompanied with public scandal, to proceed at once to solemn correction by the Church.

No disagreement with the general principles; only in how they are applied, in light of the excerpts above illustrating how Calvin wished to apply these necessary measures.

4. Delicts to be distinguished from flagitious wickedness. The last to be more severely punished.

Another distinction to be attended to is, that some sins are mere delinquencies, others crimes and flagrant iniquities. In correcting the latter, it is necessary to employ not only admonition or rebuke, but a sharper remedy, as Paul shows when he not only verbally rebukes the incestuous Corinthian, but punishes him with excommunication, as soon as he was informed of his crime (1 Cor. 5:4).

This is an example of "binding" (i.e., "binding and loosing"). It is also a variation of penance, intended for the spiritual good of the recipient.

Now then we begin better to perceive how the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church, which animadverts on sins according to the word of the Lord, is at once the best help to sound doctrine, the best foundation of order, and the best bond of unity. Therefore, when the Church banishes from its fellowship open adulterers, fornicators, thieves, robbers, the seditious, the perjured, false witnesses, and others of that description;

Now open adulterers and fornicators are welcomed and encouraged by many Protestant denominations, including some originally from Calvin's own theological tradition, such as the Presbyterian Church USA. Calvin is largely in line with the angels in these matters and much preferable to many thousands who are his supposed legatees today.

likewise the contumacious, who, when duly admonished for lighter faults, hold God and his tribunal in derision, instead of arrogating to itself anything that is unreasonable, it exercises a jurisdiction which it has received from the Lord.

Calvin received no "jurisdiction" from the Lord to assume the authority that he casually assumed, but that is another topic.

Moreover, lest any one should despise the judgment of the Church, or count it a small matter to be condemned by the suffrages of the faithful, the Lord has declared that it is nothing else than the promulgation of his own sentence, and that that which they do on earth is ratified in heaven. For they act by the word of the Lord in condemning the perverse, and by the word of the Lord in taking the penitent back into favour (John 20:23).

More reference to "binding and loosing" -- though in a less formal and sacramental sense than is the case with Catholics . . .

Those, I say, who trust that churches can long stand without this bond of discipline are mistaken, unless, indeed, we can with impunity dispense with a help which the Lord foresaw would be necessary. And, indeed, the greatness of the necessity will be better perceived by its manifold uses.

Discipline is certainly necessary and scriptural. Practical application is made more difficult, however, by the ultimately arbitrary nature of the authority in the Protestant system, and rampant denominationalism. The real authority continues to reside with the One True Church, by virtue of apostolic succession and apostolic Tradition: in an unbroken line all the way back to the apostles and our Lord Jesus.

5. Ends of this discipline. 1. That the wicked may not, by being admitted to the Lord’s Table, put insult on Christ. 2. That they may not corrupt others. 3. That they themselves may repent.

There are three ends to which the Church has respect in thus correcting and excommunicating. The first is, that God may not be insulted by the name of Christians being given to those who lead shameful and flagitious lives, as if his holy Church were a combination of the wicked and abandoned.

Amen! Calvin's theology, however (or at least how it tends to be applied by many Calvinists today), would tend to more readily give up on persons as damned and lost, as "proven" (so they would assert) by sinful behavior, whereas Catholics are (on the whole; as a generalization) more willing to help work to bring the people back into the fold, since we believe that a person can fall out of a state of grace and return to it, by God's grace. Hence, I have encountered, several times, Calvinists on the Internet who are quite willing to pronounce a person to not be of the elect (I have experienced this personally, more than once), in cases of mere theological disagreement, not even cases of outward sin, whereas I have rarely if ever observed a Catholic doing that. Folks usually act consistently according to the belief-systems they are part of. Thus, Calvinism tends to create a certain unique approach to the non-believer or unrepentant sinner who claims the title of Christian, Catholicism, another.

For seeing that the Church is the body of Christ, she cannot be defiled by such fetid and putrid members, without bringing some disgrace on her Head. Therefore that there may be nothing in the Church to bring disgrace on his sacred name, those whose turpitude might throw infamy on the name must be expelled from his family.

Case in point. I would suspect that from a Calvinist perspective, this judgment would be more quickly made.

And here, also, regard must be had to the Lord’s Supper, which might he profaned by a promiscuous admission. For it is most true, that he who is entrusted with the dispensation of it, if he knowingly and willingly admits any unworthy person whom he ought and is able to repel, is as guilty of sacrilege as if he had cast the Lord’s body to dogs. Wherefore, Chrysostom bitterly inveighs against priests, who, from fear of the great, dare not keep any one back. “Blood (says he, Hom. 83, in Mt.) will be required at your hands. If you fear man, he will mock you, but if you fear God, you will be respected also by men. Let us not tremble at fasces, purple, or diadems; our power here is greater. Assuredly I will sooner give up my body to death, and allow my blood to be shed, than be a partaker of that pollution.” Therefore, lest this most sacred mystery should be exposed to ignominy, great selection is required in dispensing it, and this cannot be except by the jurisdiction of the Church.

Calvin is absolutely right, here. We Catholics believe that a Catholic who is known to be in mortal sin, ought not to participate in the Holy Eucharist, short of repentance, confession, and absolution. Unfortunately, sometimes priests are lax in applying this understanding in practice.

A second end of discipline is, that the good may not, as usually happens, be corrupted by constant communication with the wicked. For such is our proneness to go astray, that nothing is easier than to seduce us from the right course by bad example. To this use of discipline the apostle referred when he commanded the Corinthians to discard the incestuous man from their society. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6) And so much danger did he foresee here, that he prohibited them from keeping company with such persons. “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11).

In extreme cases, this is necessary; yes. We agree.

A third end of discipline is, that the sinner may be ashamed, and begin to repent of his turpitude. Hence it is for their interest also that their iniquity should be chastised, that whereas they would have become more obstinate by indulgence, they may be aroused by the rod. This the apostle intimates when he thus writes —“If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thess. 3:14). Again, when he says that he had delivered the Corinthian to Satan, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5); that is, as I interpret it, he gave him over to temporal condemnation, that he might be made safe for eternity. And he says that he gave him over to Satan because the devil is without the Church, as Christ is in the Church. Some interpret this of a certain infliction on the flesh, but this interpretation seems to me most improbable. (August. de Verb. Apostol. Serm. 68)

This is an instance of temporal penalties for sin, or penance, which can be relaxed (as Paul did in this very case, by an indulgence. But Calvin wants to rail against both penance and indulgences, even though they amount to virtually the same thing he himself recommends. It is likely, then, that he doesn't fully understand what either thing is, in the first place.

6. In what way sins public as well as secret are to be corrected. Trivial and grave offences.

These being the ends proposed, it remains to see in what way the Church is to execute this part of discipline, which consists in jurisdiction. And, first, let us remember the division above laid down, that some sins are public, others private or secret. Public are those which are done not before one or two witnesses, but openly, and to the offence of the whole Church. By secret, I mean not such as are altogether concealed from men, such as those of hypocrites (for these fall not under the judgment of the Church), but those of an intermediate description, which are not without witnesses, and yet are not public. The former class requires not the different steps which Christ enumerates; but whenever anything of the kind occurs, the Church ought to do her duty by summoning the offender, and correcting him according to his fault. In the second class, the matter comes not before the Church, unless there is contumacy, according to the rule of Christ. In taking cognisance of offences, it is necessary to attend to the distinction between delinquencies and flagrant iniquities. In lighter offences there is not so much occasion for severity, but verbal chastisement is sufficient, and that gentle and fatherly, so as not to exasperate or confound the offender, but to bring him back to himself, so that he may rather rejoice than be grieved at the correction. Flagrant iniquities require a sharper remedy. It is not sufficient verbally to rebuke him who, by some open act of evil example, has grievously offended the Church; but he ought for a time to be denied the communion of the Supper, until he gives proof of repentance. Paul does not merely administer a verbal rebuke to the Corinthian, but discards him from the Church, and reprimands the Corinthians for having borne with him so long (1 Cor. 5:5).

Agreed all down the line . . .

This was the method observed by the ancient and purer Church, when legitimate government was in vigour.

Calvin, to my knowledge, never specifies when and how this "purer" Church, that had "legitimate government" became impure and by and large a tool of Satan. It seems that he would have to have an opinion on that, in order to consistently oppose the Catholic Church (that once was, in his eyes, pure and is now thoroughly corrupt, etc.). Otherwise, he is using merely vague, ethereal abstraction in order to promote his essentially anti-Catholic agenda.

When any one was guilty of some flagrant iniquity, and thereby caused scandal, he was first ordered to abstain from participation in the sacred Supper, and thereafter to humble himself before God, and testify his penitence before the Church. There were, moreover, solemn rites, which, as indications of repentance, were wont to be prescribed to those who had lapsed.

In other words, penance. If it was good then, it should be good now, especially since it is an eminently scriptural concept.

When the penitent had thus made satisfaction to the Church,

Interesting use of terms there . . .

he was received into favour by the laying on of hands. This admission often receives the name of peace from Cyprian, who briefly describes the form. “They act as penitents for a certain time, next they come to confession, and receive the right of communion by the laying on of hands of the bishop and clergy.”

Confession? If this was the "purer" Church, and this is a worthy example he brings to the table, why does not Calvin continue to recommend confession in his new "church"?

Although the bishop with the clergy thus superintended the restoration of the penitent, the consent of the people was at the same time required, as he elsewhere explains.

It should be a communitarian thing in some sense; this is good.

7. No person, not even the sovereign, exempted from this discipline. By whom and in what way it ought to be exercised.

So far was any one from being exempted from this discipline, that even princes submitted to it in common with their subjects; and justly, since it is the discipline of Christ, to whom all sceptres and diadems should be subject. Thus Theodosius, when excommunicated by Ambrose, because of the slaughter perpetrated at Thessalonica, laid aside all the royal insignia with which he was surrounded, and publicly in the Church bewailed the sin into which he had been betrayed by the fraud of others, with groans and tears imploring pardon.

Those were the days. Contemporary to Calvin was the example of the tyrant Henry VIII, who tortured and slaughtered observant Catholics by the hundreds, with nary a criticism from Calvin. In fact, Calvin thought St. Thomas More's execution was a fine thing to do.

Great kings should not think it a disgrace to them to prostrate themselves suppliantly before Christ, the King of kings; nor ought they to be displeased at being judged by the Church.

Except when the pope declared that Henry VIII's marriage was valid, and refused to grant an annulment. Then the king was at liberty to rebel, leave the Church, put himself at the head of the church in his domain, and start slaughtering Catholics and stealing Catholic properties at will.

For seeing they seldom hear anything in their courts but mere flattery, the more necessary is it that the Lord should correct them by the mouth of his priests.

Exactly. It didn't work too well in England, though, did it? One would think that since this was the most blatant example of what Calvin here decries, that he would condemn it somewhere, sometime. But where is such a statement from him? It may exist, but I've yet to find such a thing, myself.

Nay, they ought rather to wish the priests not to spare them, in order that the Lord may spare. I here say nothing as to those by whom the jurisdiction ought to be exercised, because it has been said elsewhere (Chap. 11 sec. 5, 6). I only add, that the legitimate course to be taken in excommunication, as shown by Paul, is not for the elders alone to act apart from others, but with the knowledge and approbation of the Church, so that the body of the people, without regulating the procedure, may, as witnesses and guardians, observe it, and prevent the few from doing anything capriciously.

There is good in community participation, but the Church is not simply a democracy. Even Calvin's "church" didn't operate that way at any time. The true Christian "democracies" were groups like the Anabaptists, Quakers, and Mennonites, etc., though they no doubt exercised censures at times as well. The Amish practice shunning to this day.

Throughout the whole procedure, in addition to invocation of the name of God, there should be a gravity bespeaking the presence of Christ, and leaving no room to doubt that he is presiding over his own tribunal.


8. In what spirit discipline is to be exercised. In what respect some of the ancient Christians exercised it too rigorously. This done more from custom than in accordance with their own sentiments. This shown from Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustine.

It ought not, however, to be omitted, that the Church, in exercising severity, ought to accompany it with the spirit of meekness. For, as Paul enjoins, we must always take care that he on whom discipline is exercised be not “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:7): for in this way, instead of cure there would be destruction. The rule of moderation will be best obtained from the end contemplated. For the object of excommunication being to bring the sinner to repentance and remove bad examples, in order that the name of Christ may not be evil spoken of, nor others tempted to the same evil courses: if we consider this, we shall easily understand how far severity should be carried, and at what point it ought to cease. Therefore, when the sinner gives the Church evidence of his repentance, and by this evidence does what in him lies to obliterate the offence, he ought not on any account to be urged farther. If he is urged, the rigour now exceeds due measure.

We agree. The Catholic Church over the past several centuries, has in practice emphasized mercy far more than severity.

In this respect it is impossible to excuse the excessive austerity of the ancients, which was altogether at variance with the injunction of our Lord, and strangely perilous. For when they enjoined a formal repentance, and excluded from communion for three, or four, or seven years, or for life, what could the result be, but either great hypocrisy or very great despair? In like manner, when any one who had again lapsed was not admitted to a second repentance, but ejected from the Church, to the end of his life (August. Ep. 54), this was neither useful nor agreeable to reason. Whosoever, therefore, looks at the matter with sound judgment, will here regret a want of prudence.

I'm inclined to agree with Calvin, though individual cases would have to be examined. The Catholic Church obviously does not now hardly ever act in such a fashion.

Here, however, I rather disapprove of the public custom, than blame those who complied with it. Some of them certainly disapproved of it, but submitted to what they were unable to correct. Cyprian, indeed, declares that it was not with his own will he was thus rigorous. “Our patience, facility, and humanity (he says, Lib. 1 Ep. 3), are ready to all who come. I wish all to be brought back into the Church: I wish all our fellow-soldiers to be contained within the camp of Christ and the mansions of God the Father. I forgive all; I disguise much; from an earnest desire of collecting the brotherhood, I do not minutely scrutinise all the faults which have been committed against God. I myself often err, by forgiving offences more than I ought. Those returning in repentance, and those confessing their sins with simple and humble satisfaction, I embrace with prompt and full delight.”

That expresses the prevailing approach of the Catholic Church today. We would expect the Church as a whole to grow spiritually over centuries, as the Body of Christ is alive and constantly developing. We learn about wrong and harmful approaches and practices as time goes on. There were blind spots in how to apply correct doctrine and theological and spiritual truth in the Middle Ages and no doubt there continue to be some today that will improve over time.

Chrysostom, who is somewhat more severe, still speaks thus: “If God is so kind, why should his priest wish to appear austere?” We know, moreover, how indulgently Augustine treated the Donatists; not hesitating to admit any who returned from schism to their bishopric, as soon as they declared their repentance. But, as a contrary method had prevailed, they were compelled to follow it, and give up their own judgment.

It is good to expose and correct the errors of schism and heresy. That is an act of love, and it is what motivates the present critique. The truth is not up for grabs. Christians don't need to reinvent the wheel of theological truth every generation, or with each person (as Calvin assumes he is capable of doing). We have received apostolic tradition and truth (Rom 2:8; 2 Cor 4:2; 13:8; Gal 5:7; 2 Thess 2:12; 1 Tim 2:4, 3:15, 4:3; 2 Tim 3:7, 4:4; Heb 10:26; James 5:19; 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.) from the apostles (Acts 2:42; Jude 3). It's not up to us to reject or change that. This truth develops, but it never essentially changes.

9. Moderation to be used, not only by the whole Church, but by each individual member.

But as the whole body of the Church are required to act thus mildly, and not to carry their rigour against those who have lapsed to an extreme, but rather to act charitably towards them, according to the precept of Paul, so every private individual ought proportionately to accommodate himself to this clemency and humanity. Such as have, therefore, been expelled from the Church, it belongs not to us to expunge from the number of the elect, or to despair of, as if they were already lost.

Another example of Calvin teaching that we do not know who is in the elect or not. Calvinists today would do well to follow his example. They too often do not.

We may lawfully judge them aliens from the Church, and so aliens from Christ, but only during the time of their excommunication.

We Catholics agree. We think that someone can fall out of grace, but also return to it, if they are open to God's willingness and grace to bring them back. Calvin almost sounds like a Catholic or an Arminian in these passages. Perhaps his own position has at times been a bit distorted by his own followers.

If then, also, they give greater evidence of petulance than of humility, still let us commit them to the judgment of the Lord, hoping better of them in future than we see at present, and not ceasing to pray to God for them.

In one notorious incident on a Calvinist forum, I was being savaged by several participants, simply for being Catholic and daring to express my opinions. The worst example of this disgraceful conduct towards a fellow Christian was one person who declared that I was damned and that no one should even pray for me. We see that these "Calvinists" are greatly at odds with the advice of John Calvin: the one who started their theological system and the one they claim to so greatly admire.

And (to sum up in one word) let us not consign to destruction their person, which is in the hand, and subject to the decision, of the Lord alone; but let us merely estimate the character of each man’s acts according to the law of the Lord.

This is excellent and wise advice as well. How good it would be for the thousands of people on the Internet who regularly judge and dismiss others altogether, forsaking all charity, rather than stick to criticizing their "acts" -- as Calvin says --, to heed his advice. The reader may note (lest this be suspected) that I have not utterly dismissed Calvin as a person. I don't judge his sincerity or good intentions for the most part. I do (obviously) severely criticize theological errors and inconsistency. I don't know if he is in heaven or not, but I hope that he is, and I don't deny that there is a distinct possibility that God may have had mercy on his serious errors, just as He must do with all of us, in order for us to be saved. I take the same approach to Luther and indeed any serious Christian with whom I have principled theological disagreements.

In following this rule, we abide by the divine judgment rather than give any judgment of our own. Let us not arrogate to ourselves greater liberty in judging, if we would not limit the power of God, and give the law to his mercy. Whenever it seems good to Him, the worst are changed into the best; aliens are ingrafted, and strangers are adopted into the Church. This the Lord does, that he may disappoint the thoughts of men, and confound their rashness; a rashness which, if not curbed, would usurp a power of judging to which it has no title.

I think this is another eloquently expressed truth and piece of wisdom. I'm happy to agree with Calvin and commend him when I can (as I try to always do with regard to Protestantism in general). Unity is a good thing. The more of it we can have with each other, without compromise of principle, the better.

10. Our Saviour’s words concerning binding and loosing wrested if otherwise understood. Difference between anathema and excommunication. Anathema rarely if ever to be used.

For when our Saviour promises that what his servants bound on earth should be bound in heaven (Mt. 18:18), he confines the power of binding to the censure of the Church, which does not consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation, but assures them, when they hear their life and manners condemned, that perpetual damnation will follow if they do not repent.

Exactly. Calvin agrees with much of Catholic thought on this, though he inadequately understands the "transactional" and sacramental essence of it (because he has ditched priests from his system, as well as five of the seven sacraments; while he redefines and "guts" of their essence the remaining two).

Excommunication differs from anathema in this, that the latter completely excluding pardon, dooms and devotes the individual to eternal destruction, whereas the former rather rebukes and animadverts upon his manners; and although it also punishes, it is to bring him to salvation, by forewarning him of his future doom. If it succeeds, reconciliation and restoration to communion are ready to be given. Moreover, anathema is rarely if ever to be used.

We agree, though the notion of anathema as the Catholic Church sees it, is often misunderstood (I suspect that Calvin was among those who did and do this). The Catholic Church does not claim to know of anyone's eternal state, let alone the power to consign someone to hell. That applies even to Judas.

Hence, though ecclesiastical discipline does not allow us to be on familiar and intimate terms with excommunicated persons, still we ought to strive by all possible means to bring them to a better mind, and recover them to the fellowship and unity of the Church: as the apostle also says, “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). If this humanity be not observed in private as well as public, the danger is, that our discipline shall degenerate into destruction.

Absolutely. The aim is always to restore. I'm delighted to see Calvin's emphasis in this direction of mercy and restoration. I agree with him that it is a most biblical emphasis indeed.

11. Excessive rigour to be avoided, as well by private individuals as by pastors.

Another special requisite to moderation of discipline is, as Augustine discourses against the Donatists, that private individuals must not, when they see vices less carefully corrected by the Council of Elders, immediately separate themselves from the Church;

Why would that not also apply to Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, with regard to the Church that was long since in place, before they established their own counter-"churches"? Why is it that they can separate themselves by their own decision, whereas they don't allow their followers the same freedom? By what principle and logic are they different from those under them in their own self-generated systems?

nor must pastors themselves, when unable to reform all things which need correction to the extent which they could wish, cast up their ministry, or by unwonted severity throw the whole Church into confusion.

The "Reformation" was nothing if not one gigantic "confusion" and disruption of the Christian Church!

What Augustine says is perfectly true: “Whoever corrects what he can, by rebuking it, or without violating the bond of peace, excludes what he cannot correct, or unjustly condemns while he patiently tolerates what he is unable to exclude without violating the bond of peace, is free and exempted from the curse” (August. contra Parmen. Lib. 2 c. 4). He elsewhere gives the reason. “Every pious reason and mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought always to have regard to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This the apostle commands us to keep by bearing mutually with each other. If it is not kept, the medicine of discipline begins to be not only superfluous, but even pernicious, and therefore ceases to be medicine” (Ibid. Lib. 3 c. 1). “He who diligently considers these things, neither in the preservation of unity neglects strictness of discipline, nor by intemperate correction bursts the bond of society” (Ibid. cap. 2). He confesses, indeed, that pastors ought not only to exert themselves in removing every defect from the Church, but that every individual ought to his utmost to do so; nor does he disguise the fact, that he who neglects to admonish, accuse, and correct the bad, although he neither favours them, nor sins with them, is guilty before the Lord; and if he conducts himself so that though he can exclude them from partaking of the Supper, he does it not, then the sin is no longer that of other men, but his own. Only he would have that prudence used which our Lord also requires, “lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them” (Mt. 13:29). Hence he infers from Cyprian, “Let a man then mercifully correct what he can; what he cannot correct, let him bear patiently, and in love bewail and lament.”

Agreed. When Calvin is truly following the advice and example of St. Augustine, he does well, because there was no greater Church father.

12. In this respect the Donatists erred most grievously, as do also the Anabaptists in the present day. Portraiture by Augustine.

This he says on account of the moroseness of the Donatists, who, when they saw faults in the Church which the bishops indeed rebuked verbally, but did not punish with excommunication (because they did not think that anything would be gained in this way), bitterly inveighed against the bishops as traitors to discipline, and by an impious schism separated themselves from the flock of Christ.

And of course, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their followers did pretty much exactly the same thing, but Calvin apparently misses the ironic uncanny parallel. Rigorism was always part of the "Reformation" self-understanding (in this way they resembled the Donatists and Montanists), at least on a popular level, even though Luther granted that Protestants were no more righteous in conduct than Catholics.

Similar, in the present day, is the conduct of the Anabaptists, who, acknowledging no assembly of Christ unless conspicuous in all respects for angelic perfection, under pretence of zeal overthrow everything which tends to edification. “Such (says Augustin. contra Parmen. Lib. 3 c. 4), not from hatred of other men’s iniquity, but zeal for their own disputes, ensnaring the weak by the credit of their name, attempt to draw them entirely away, or at least to separate them; swollen with pride, raving with petulance, insidious in calumny, turbulent in sedition. That it may not be seen how void they are of the light of truth, they cover themselves with the shadow of a stern severity: the correction of a brother’s fault, which in Scripture is enjoined to be done with moderation, without impairing the sincerity of love or breaking the bond of peace, they pervert to sacrilegious schism and purposes of excision. Thus Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) when, under pretext of a just severity, he persuades to savage cruelty, desiring nothing more than to violate and burst the bond of unity and peace; because, when it is maintained, all his power of mischief is feeble, his wily traps are broken, and his schemes of subversion vanish.”

We agree with St. Augustine's appraisal, of course. But we take it a step further and see much in "magisterial" Protestantism (Calvinism and Lutheranism) many of the same errors to a lesser degree. But Calvin and Luther are (as we so often see in human beings) blind to them. A Catholic observing both from the outside can see the many similarities. It is only a difference of degree, not kind.

13. Moderation especially to be used when not a few individuals, but the great body of the people, have gone astray.

One thing Augustine specially commends—viz. that if the contagion of sin has seized the multitude, mercy must accompany living discipline. “For counsels of separation are vain, sacrilegious, and pernicious, because impious and proud, and do more to disturb the weak good than to correct the wicked proud” (August. Ep. 64). This which he enjoins on others he himself faithfully practiced. For, writing to Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage, he complains that drunkenness, which is so severely condemned in Scripture, prevails in Africa with impunity, and advises a council of bishops to be called for the purpose of providing a remedy. He immediately adds, “In my opinion, such things are not removed by rough, harsh, and imperious measures, but more by teaching than commanding, more by admonishing than threatening. For thus ought we to act with a multitude of offenders. Severity is to be exercised against the sins of a few” (August. Ep. 64). He does not mean, however, that the bishops were to wink or be silent because they are unable to punish public offences severely, as he himself afterwards explains. But he wishes to temper the mode of correction, so as to give soundness to the body rather than cause destruction. And, accordingly, he thus concludes: “Wherefore, we must on no account neglect the injunction of the apostle, to separate from the wicked, when it can be done without the risk of violating peace, because he did not wish it to be done otherwise (1 Cor. 5:13); we must also endeavour, by bearing with each other, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2).

Calvin agrees with this, yet feels perfectly justified to separate entirely from the Catholic Church. I don't know how he differentiates between the two things in his own mind. Perhaps someone else can explain to me what the difference is, according to a Protestant outlook, and why one is justified and the other not. I guess, for one thing, that it is much easier to spot faults and hypocrisies of others many hundreds of years ago, while at the same time being blind to our own (seemingly very) similar faults. It's a common human shortcoming, and Calvin, I submit, falls victim to it here.

No comments: