Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,1:13-17) ["Puritanical" Fanaticism / Sinners in the Church / Communitarianism / Unity]

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

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Book IV

CHAPTER 1.

OF THE TRUE CHURCH. DUTY OF CULTIVATING UNITY WITH HER, AS THE MOTHER OF ALL THE GODLY.
13. The immoral lives of certain professors no ground for abandoning the Church. Error on this head of the ancient and modern Cathari. Their first objection. Answer to it from three of our Saviour’s parables.
Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct. Here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his machinations to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness, as if they had already become a kind of aƫrial spirits, spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains.
This is a marvelously apt, on-target description of a particular corruption of certain Christians along the lines of self-righteousness and condescension towards others. Ironically, the ones perhaps most infamous for this are often self-proclaimed followers of Calvin, who have become hyper-legalistic and downright Pharisaical. We must give Calvin credit and thank him for denouncing such things, and quote him against those of his followers who don't yet get it.
Such of old were the Cathari and the Donatists, who were similarly infatuated. Such in the present day are some of the Anabaptists, who would be thought to have made superior progress. Others, again, sin in this respect, not so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal. Seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance with the doctrine, they forthwith conclude that there no church exists. The offence is indeed well founded, and it is one to which in this most unhappy age we give far too much occasion. It is impossible to excuse our accursed sluggishness, which the Lord will not leave unpunished, as he is already beginning sharply to chastise us. Woe then to us who, by our dissolute licence of wickedness, cause weak consciences to be wounded!

Sin among Christians is always a cause of scandal, and this is how it should be. But we cannot conclude from this that "no church exists."

Still those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set bounds to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity. Thinking there is no church where there is not complete purity and integrity of conduct, they, through hatred of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church, while they think they are shunning the company of the ungodly. They allege that the Church of God is holy. But that they may at the same time understand that it contains a mixture of good and bad, let them hear from the lips of our Saviour that parable in which he compares the Church to a net in which all kinds of fishes are taken, but not separated until they are brought ashore. Let them hear it compared to a field which, planted with good seed, is by the fraud of an enemy mingled with tares, and is not freed of them until the harvest is brought into the barn. Let them hear, in fine, that it is a thrashing-floor in which the collected wheat lies concealed under the chaff, until, cleansed by the fanners and the sieve, it is at length laid up in the granary. If the Lord declares that the Church will labour under the defect of being burdened with a multitude of wicked until the day of judgment, it is in vain to look for a church altogether free from blemish (Mt. 13).

Again, Calvin offers a fabulous biblical condemnation of the naive, self-righteous idea that there will never be any sinners in the Church at all. Bravo!

14. Second objection. Answer from a consideration of the state of the Corinthian Church, and the Churches of Galatia.

They exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence. What if the apostle’s sentiment applies here also? Among the Corinthians it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those not trivial errors, but some of them execrable crimes. There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine. What course was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints. If the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits, and avarice prevail; where a crime, which even the Gentiles would execrate, is openly approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honoured as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither decently nor in order: If there the Church still remains, simply because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth part of these crimes cannot be imputed? How, I ask, would those who act so morosely against present churches have acted to the Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel (Gal. 1:6), and yet among them the same apostle found churches?

I think this is exactly right, and I have often made the same argument, citing the Galatians, Corinthians, and seven churches in the book of Revelation. Especially noteworthy is Calvin's pointing out how St. Paul reacted to these scandals: "Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ?"

15. Third objection and answer.

They also object, that Paul sharply rebukes the Corinthians for permitting an heinous offender in their communion, and then lays down a general sentence, by which he declares it unlawful even to eat bread with a man of impure life (
1 Cor. 5:11, 12). Here they exclaim, If it is not lawful to eat ordinary bread, how can it be lawful to eat the Lord’s bread? I admit, that it is a great disgrace if dogs and swine are admitted among the children of God; much more, if the sacred body of Christ is prostituted to them. And, indeed, when churches are well regulated, they will not bear the wicked in their bosom, nor will they admit the worthy and unworthy indiscriminately to that sacred feast. But because pastors are not always sedulously vigilant, are sometimes also more indulgent than they ought, or are prevented from acting so strictly as they could wish; the consequence is, that even the openly wicked are not always excluded from the fellowship of the saints. This I admit to be a vice, and I have no wish to extenuate it, seeing that Paul sharply rebukes it in the Corinthians. But although the Church fail in her duty, it does not therefore follow that every private individual is to decide the question of separation for himself.

Catholics agree again. We merely point out the obvious: that the last sentence is contrary to both Protestant private judgment and to the behavior of those, like Calvin, who themselves decided to separate from the historic Christian Catholic Church.

I deny not that it is the duty of a pious man to withdraw from all private intercourse with the wicked, and not entangle himself with them by any voluntary tie; but it is one thing to shun the society of the wicked, and another to renounce the communion of the Church through hatred of them.

Excellent point, and important distinction between the public and private realms . . .

Those who think it sacrilege to partake the Lord’s bread with the wicked, are in this more rigid than Paul.

I love Calvin's emphasis on comparison with the Apostle Paul, who told us more than once to imitate him.

For when he exhorts us to pure and holy communion, he does not require that we should examine others, or that every one should examine the whole church, but that each should examine himself (1 Cor. 11:28, 29).

Excellent . . .

If it were unlawful to communicate with the unworthy, Paul would certainly have ordered us to take heed that there were no individual in the whole body by whose impurity we might be defiled, but now that he only requires each to examine himself, he shows that it does no harm to us though some who are unworthy present themselves along with us. To the same effect he afterwards adds, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.” He says not to others, but to himself. And justly; for the right of admitting or excluding ought not to be left to the decision of individuals. Cognisance of this point, which cannot be exercised without due order, as shall afterwards be more fully shown, belongs to the whole church. It would therefore be unjust to hold any private individual as polluted by the unworthiness of another, whom he neither can nor ought to keep back from communion.

This is a much-needed emphasis on Church authority and a corporate (biblical) approach to Christianity, that should be required reading for all Protestants.

16. The origin of these objections. A description of Schismatics. Their portraiture by Augustine. A pious counsel respecting these scandals, and a safe remedy against them.

Still, however, even the good

Many Calvinists today and some other Protestants wouldn't speak in terms of a "good person." They would immediately retort that we are all sinners, with no good in us. I've engaged in debates with people (followers of Calvin) who think exactly like that. But Calvin didn't.

are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it.


A better description of the essential wrongheadedness and harmfulness of both "puritanism" and fundamentalism (in the derogatory sense of both words) has probably never been given.

Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and, as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men.

Another true observation, but would that Calvin would take his own advice and apply it to how he views Catholics!

Well and wisely, therefore, does Augustine say, “Seeing that pious reason and the mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought specially to regard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which the Apostle enjoins us to keep, by bearing with one another (for if we keep it not, the application of medicine is not only superfluous, but pernicious, and therefore proves to be no medicine); those bad sons who, not from hatred of other men’s iniquities, but zeal for their own contentions, attempt altogether to draw away, or at least to divide, weak brethren ensnared by the glare of their name, while swollen with pride, stuffed with petulance, insidiously calumnious, and turbulently seditious, use the cloak of a rigorous severity, that they may not seem devoid of the light of truth, and pervert to sacrilegious schism, and purposes of excision, those things which are enjoined in the Holy Scriptures (due regard being had to sincere love, and the unity of peace), to correct a brother’s faults by the appliance of a moderate cure” (August. Cont. Parmen. cap. 1).

A better description of the essential wrongheadedness and harmfulness of the Protestant Revolt against the Catholic Church and doctrinal tradition has probably never been given. How ironic that Calvin cites it, and how tragic that he seems to have no inkling of how this criticism could quite accurately be applied to his own schismatic movement. But those things never enter his head: so sure is he of his own rightness.

To the pious and placid his advice is, mercifully to correct what they can, and to bear patiently with what they cannot correct, in love lamenting and mourning until God either reform or correct, or at the harvest root up the tares, and scatter the chaff (Ibid. cap. 2). Let all the godly study to provide themselves with these weapons, lest, while they deem themselves strenuous and ardent defenders of righteousness, they revolt from the kingdom of heaven, which is the only kingdom of righteousness. For as God has been pleased that the communion of his Church shall be maintained in this external society, any one who, from hatred of the ungodly, violates the bond of this society, enters on a downward course, in which he incurs great danger of cutting himself off from the communion of saints. Let them reflect, that in a numerous body there are several who may escape their notice, and yet are truly righteous and innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Let them reflect, that of those who seem diseased, there are many who are far from taking pleasure or flattering themselves in their faults, and who, ever and anon aroused by a serious fear of the Lord, aspire to greater integrity. Let them reflect, that they have no right to pass judgment on a man for one act, since the holiest sometimes make the most grievous fall. Let them reflect, that in the ministry of the word and participation of the sacraments, the power to collect the Church is too great to be deprived of all its efficacy, by the fault of some ungodly men. Lastly, let them reflect, that in estimating the Church, divine is of more force than human judgment.

I think this is an extraordinarily eloquent and wise observation, flawed only insofar as (I hate to keep repeating this) it is not applied with consistency to his own party of dissidents from Catholicism. This is a general irony and tragedy of Protestant rationales: what is said of the "radical" Protestant factions and sectarians can usually just as easily be applied from a Catholic and historical perspective to the so-called "magisterial reformers" or "mainstream Reformation." We contend that the difference is only one of degree, not of essence. But the leaders of the latter school virtually never see this. They're blind to the analogy and the applicability. It's often charged that the Catholic Church is blind to its faults (that quasi-prophets Luther, Calvin et al were, of course, born to correct), but assuredly there is plenty of blindness and tunnel vision to go around. We all often see the faults of others with minute accuracy, while being completely oblivious to our own (often of the same exact type as those being criticized).

17. Fourth objection and answer. Answer confirmed by the divine promises.

Since they also argue that there is good reason for the Church being called holy, it is necessary to consider what the holiness is in which it excels, lest by refusing to acknowledge any church, save one that is completely perfect, we leave no church at all. It is true, indeed, as Paul says, that Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Nevertheless, it is true, that the Lord is daily smoothing its wrinkles, and wiping away its spots.

Very true . . .

Hence it follows, that its holiness is not yet perfect. Such, then, is the holiness of the Church: it makes daily progress, but is not yet perfect; it daily advances, but as yet has not reached the goal, as will elsewhere be more fully explained.

And this is true also of any individual Christian desiring to grow in grace and sanctification as time goes on.

Therefore, when the Prophets foretel, “Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more;”—“It shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it” (Joel 3:17; Isa. 35:8), let us not understand it as if no blemish remained in the members of the Church: but only that with their whole heart they aspire after holiness and perfect purity: and hence, that purity which they have not yet fully attained is, by the kindness of God, attributed to them. And though the indications of such a kind of holiness existing among men are too rare, we must understand, that at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass he always sanctifies some vessels to honour, that no age may be left without experience of his mercy. This he has declared by sure promises, such as the following: “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3, 4). “The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell” (Ps. 132:13, 14). “Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever” (Jer. 31:35, 36).

This is reasonable. Calvin again makes an analogy of the Church to the chosen people. Like them, the Church is what it is wholly because of God and His purposes for it, not because all of us in it are shining examples of sainthood and perfect nobility of character and conduct. There is much in the Institutes (at least in these sections thus far) that Catholics can agree with, as I have already noted many times, and will be delighted to keep noting as I proceed.

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,1:6-12) [Synergism / Grace Alone / the Elect / True and Secondary Doctrines / Mass Apostasy]

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

* * * * *

Book IV

CHAPTER 1.

OF THE TRUE CHURCH. DUTY OF CULTIVATING UNITY WITH HER, AS THE MOTHER OF ALL THE GODLY.
6. Her ministry effectual, but not without the Spirit of God. Passages in proof of this.
Moreover, as at this time there is a great dispute as to the efficacy of the ministry, some extravagantly overrating its dignity,
Likely a veiled dig at Catholicism . . .
and others erroneously maintaining, that what is peculiar to the Spirit of God is transferred to mortal man,
Probably a swipe at Protestant radicals and sometimes "fanatics" to the "left" of Calvin (folks that Luther also opposed) . . .
when we suppose that ministers and teachers penetrate to the mind and heart, so as to correct the blindness of the one, and the hardness of the other; it is necessary to place this controversy on its proper footing. The arguments on both sides will be disposed of without trouble, by distinctly attending to the passages in which God, the author of preaching, connects his Spirit with it, and then promises a beneficial result; or, on the other hand, to the passages in which God, separating himself from external means, claims for himself alone both the commencement and the whole course of faith. The office of the second Elias was, as Malachi declares, to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6). Christ declares that he sent the Apostles to produce fruit from his labours (John 15:16). What this fruit is Peter briefly defines, when he says that we are begotten again of incorruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23). Hence Paul glories, that by means of the Gospel he had begotten the Corinthians, who were the seals of his apostleship (1 Cor. 4:15); moreover, that his was not a ministry of the letter, which only sounded in the ear, but that the effectual agency of the Spirit was given to him, in order that his doctrine might not be in vain (1 Cor. 9:2; 2 Cor. 3:6). In this sense he elsewhere declares that his Gospel was not in word, but in power (1 Thess. 1:5). He also affirms that the Galatians received the Spirit by the hearing of faith (Gal. 3:2). In short, in several passages he not only makes himself a fellow-worker with God, but attributes to himself the province of bestowing salvation (1 Cor. 3:9).
How interesting that Calvin, after going through several uncontroversial points, affirms that Paul was God's co-worker, who "attributes to himself the province of bestowing salvation." Calvinists today are very wary of such talk as that, because they immediately classify it as semi-Pelagian, or a form of works-salvation, and decry it as "synergism." But Calvin is not averse to speaking in such a fashion, since it is explicitly biblical. I've collected, myself, many passages along the lines of men being the direct instruments of salvation: Biblical Evidence for Human Distribution of Grace and Salvation; also pertaining to the motif of being God's "fellow workers":
Mark 16:20 And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.

John 15:13-15 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

1 Corinthians 9:22 . . . I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it [his many sufferings: 4:8-12,17] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Ephesians 3:1-2 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles -- assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you,

1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
All these things he certainly never uttered with the view of attributing to himself one iota apart from God, as he elsewhere briefly explains. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). Again, in another place, “He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:8). And that he allows no more to ministers is obvious from other passages. “So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:7). Again, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). And it is indeed necessary to keep these sentences in view, since God, in ascribing to himself the illumination of the mind and renewal of the heart, reminds us that it is sacrilege for man to claim any part of either to himself. Still every one who listens with docility to the ministers whom God appoints, will know by the beneficial result, that for good reason God is pleased with this method of teaching, and for good reason has laid believers under this modest yoke.
And this is, of course, exactly the same teaching as in Catholicism (I've argued precisely the same way in many of my own apologetics teachings): all these things are completely enabled by the grace of God. But because Calvin has a very poor understanding of Catholic soteriology, and specifically of merit, he wouldn't know that, which is sad. If he had comprehended that there was no disagreement at all on this point, as lot of mutual ill will and misinformation and useless polemics back and forth for almost 500 years now would have been avoided. Alas, that is not what happened, as we all know, and to this day, Calvinists and even Lutherans (per the latter's confessional works) falsely accuse the Catholic Church of teaching semi-Pelagianism. It's the devil's victory: divide and conquer. We have more than enough true disagreement with our Protestant brethren in Christ, without adding on "phantom disagreements," where in fact we actually agree; yet many on both sides don't realize it. I've always found that very troubling, and I do all I can to educate folks, so that we can rejoice in agreements and discover that the disagreements (though many and broad) are less in number than has largely been supposed.
7. Second part of the Chapter. Concerning the marks of the Church. In what respect the Church is invisible. In what respect she is visible.
The judgment which ought to be formed concerning the visible Church which comes under our observation, must, I think, be sufficiently clear from what has been said. I have observed that the Scriptures speak of the Church in two ways. Sometimes when they speak of the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God—the Church into which none are admitted but those who by the gift of adoption are sons of God, and by the sanctification of the Spirit true members of Christ. In this case it not only comprehends the saints who dwell on the earth, but all the elect who have existed from the beginning of the world.
Catholics agree. We have no objection to the "Mystical Body" concept, as long as it isn't pitted against the visible, institutional, historical Church. And Calvin recognizes the "visible Church" once again. He presupposes this whenever he makes an analogy to the Temple and OT priesthood, etc., as relevant to Christianity and Christian ecclesiology.
Often, too, by the name of Church is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord’s Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in holding the word of the Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it. In this Church there is a very large mixture of hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance: of ambitious, avaricious, envious, evil-speaking men, some also of impurer lives, who are tolerated for a time, either because their guilt cannot be legally established, or because due strictness of discipline is not always observed. Hence, as it is necessary to believe the invisible Church, which is manifest to the eye of God only, so we are also enjoined to regard this Church which is so called with reference to man, and to cultivate its communion.
Calvin (most importantly, in light of later widespread Protestant developments to the contrary; even in some Calvinist circles), does not ditch the notion of "sinners in the Church" and the "visible Church." He knows the Bible too well to do that. I've documented the biblical rationale for believing that (serious) sinners and hypocrites and nominal practitioners will always be in the Church, both in a summarizing fashion, and at some considerable length.
8. God alone knoweth them that are his. Still he has given marks to discern his children.
Accordingly, inasmuch as it was of importance to us to recognise it, the Lord has distinguished it by certain marks, and as it were symbols. It is, indeed, the special prerogative of God to know those who are his, as Paul declares in the passage already quoted (2 Tim. 2:19). And doubtless it has been so provided as a check on human rashness, the experience of every day reminding us how far his secret judgments surpass our apprehension. For even those who seemed most abandoned, and who had been completely despaired of, are by his goodness recalled to life, while those who seemed most stable often fall. Hence, as Augustine says, “In regard to the secret predestination of God, there are very many sheep without, and very many wolves within” (August. Hom. in Joan. 45). For he knows, and has his mark on those who know neither him nor themselves. Of those again who openly bear his badge, his eyes alone see who of them are unfeignedly holy, and will persevere even to the end, which alone is the completion of salvation.
Calvin again reiterates that no one knows for certain who is in the elect except God, and this ties into the necessity of bearing with rank sinners in the ranks of he church and the body of Christians. The main difference here is that Calvin (and his followers today) would say that those who "fall" had never truly been in God's grace or right with God at any time (or never justified, as Protestants construe that). We would agree with him that they are probably not in the elect if they die with serious unrepented sin, but disagree that eventual outward "falling away" proves that they had never been truly regenerated or justified at any time. Both sides agree that those who have an authentic faith in God and are true disciples, will inevitably manifest fruit and do good works. I've collected Calvin's statements along those lines, that are quite agreeable to Catholics, who want to stress the high importance of good works, while denying that man-produced works can save (the doctrine of sola gratia).
On the other hand, foreseeing that it was in some degree expedient for us to know who are to be regarded by us as his sons, he has in this matter accommodated himself to our capacity. But as here full certainty was not necessary, he has in its place substituted the judgment of charity, by which we acknowledge all as members of the Church who by confession of faith, regularity of conduct, and participation in the sacraments, unite with us in acknowledging the same God and Christ. The knowledge of his body, inasmuch as he knew it to be more necessary for our salvation, he has made known to us by surer marks.
In other words, there is a sense of the word "Christian" as defined by outward observances of attending church, partaking of sacraments, and subscribing to creeds. This is another thing that is often poorly understood by many Protestants today. Calvin makes crucial distinctions that too many of them never even consider, let alone grasp, at all. Full certainty of salvation or being in the elect is neither attainable nor "necessary," but the judgment of charity dictates that we acknowledge a brother in Christ if he is conforming at least outwardly. Only God knows the human heart.
9. These marks are the ministry of the word, and administration of the sacraments instituted by Christ. The same rule not to be followed in judging of individuals and of churches.
Hence the form of the Church appears and stands forth conspicuous to our view. Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).
Sure, but Calvin presupposes what the entire "word of God" (i.e., correct doctrine) is in the first place. He neglects to see that this "word of God" must be in accord with what has been passed down and received (apostolic tradition and patristic consensus). His own theology, of course, fails this test (though elsewhere he will vigorously argue the contrary); therefore it is impossible for Calvin to successfully contend that his circles constitute the remnant and true Church while Catholicism (for the most part, in his jaded view of the Catholic Church) does not. His form of Christianity is only valid and true insofar as it conforms with received, traditional Christianity (i.e., Catholicism).
But that we may have a clear summary of this subject, we must proceed by the following steps:—The Church universal is the multitude collected out of all nations, who, though dispersed and far distant from each other, agree in one truth of divine doctrine, and are bound together by the tie of a common religion.
Protestantism certainly hasn't agreed about "one truth of divine doctrine." Even among Calvinists as a sub-group, there are constant in-fights and institutional splits (which is their only method -- when all is said and done -- of "resolving" disputes). I observe this all the time. What Calvin desires (doctrinal unity) can only be achieved in the Catholic Church.
In this way it comprehends single churches, which exist in different towns and villages, according to the wants of human society, so that each of them justly obtains the name and authority of the Church; and also comprehends single individuals, who by a religious profession are accounted to belong to such churches, although they are in fact aliens from the Church, but have not been cut off by a public decision. There is, however, a slight difference in the mode of judging of individuals and of churches. For it may happen in practice that those whom we deem not altogether worthy of the fellowship of believers, we yet ought to treat as brethren, and regard as believers, on account of the common consent of the Church in tolerating and bearing with them in the body of Christ. Such persons we do not approve by our suffrage as members of the Church, but we leave them the place which they hold among the people of God, until they are legitimately deprived of it.
The "sinners in the Church" motif again . . .
With regard to the general body we must feel differently; if they have the ministry of the word, and honour the administration of the sacraments, they are undoubtedly entitled to be ranked with the Church, because it is certain that these things are not without a beneficial result. Thus we both maintain the Church universal in its unity, which malignant minds have always been eager to dissever, and deny not due authority to lawful assemblies distributed as circumstances require.
Catholics wouldn't object to these sentiments; only to Calvin's inaccurate and inconsistent, anti-Catholic application of the principles.
10. We must on no account forsake the Church distinguished by such marks. Those who act otherwise are apostates, deserters of the truth and of the household of God, deniers of God and Christ, violators of the mystical marriage.
We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot anywhere exist without producing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God. I say not that wherever the word is preached fruit immediately appears; but that in every place where it is received, and has a fixed abode, it uniformly displays its efficacy. Be this as it may, when the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard, and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time the face of the Church appears without deception or ambiguity and no man may with impunity spurn her authority, or reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her censures, far less revolt from her, and violate her unity (see Chap. 2 sec. 1, 10, and Chap. 8 sec. 12). For such is the value which the Lord sets on the communion of his Church, that all who contumaciously alienate themselves from any Christian society, in which the true ministry of his word and sacraments is maintained, he regards as deserters of religion.
The unending irony of the revolutionary and schismatic (as Calvin was) commending the nobility and virtue of Christian unity . . . Again, he says the right thing, but does the wrong thing, in deciding to reject the Holy Catholic Church, headed in Rome by the pope, and with an unbroken history of orthodoxy all the way back to Christ.
So highly does he recommend her authority, that when it is violated he considers that his own authority is impaired. For there is no small weight in the designation given to her, “the house of God,” “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
How often do we hear this passage cited by Protestants (or Calvinists)?! These days, it is mostly Catholics who bring attention to it.
By these words Paul intimates, that to prevent the truth from perishing in the world, the Church is its faithful guardian, because God has been pleased to preserve the pure preaching of his word by her instrumentality, and to exhibit himself to us as a parent while he feeds us with spiritual nourishment, and provides whatever is conducive to our salvation.
I've dealt with this aspect of Calvin's reasoning in past entries. It sounds extraordinarily Catholic, but this consciousness is largely lost to Calvinists today, and Calvin cannot consistently apply this principle in his own domain because he has no authority and because his rule of faith (sola Scriptura and private judgment: exemplified by Luther's intransigence and entirely subjective appeal at the Diet of Worms) undermines it
Moreover, no mean praise is conferred on the Church when she is said to have been chosen and set apart by Christ as his spouse, “not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27), as “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). Whence it follows, that revolt from the Church is denial of God and Christ.
Indeed. Obviously, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics at this point has to do with determining what the Church is and where to find it. Calvin's rhetoric about the Church, as far as it goes, is not inconsistent at all with Catholic notions. It's what he doesn't say and what he falsely assumes, that are the problems.
Wherefore there is the more necessity to beware of a dissent so iniquitous; for seeing by it we aim as far as in us lies at the destruction of God’s truth, we deserve to be crushed by the full thunder of his anger. No crime can be imagined more atrocious than that of sacrilegiously and perfidiously violating the sacred marriage which the only begotten Son of God has condescended to contract with us.
Catholics couldn't agree more. If only Calvin and all Protestants had heeded his own sage advice . . .
11. These marks to be the more carefully observed, because Satan strives to efface them, or to make us revolt from the Church. The twofold error of despising the true, and submitting to a false Church.
Wherefore let these marks be carefully impressed upon our minds, and let us estimate them as in the sight of the Lord. There is nothing on which Satan is more intent than to destroy and efface one or both of them—at one time to delete and abolish these marks, and thereby destroy the true and genuine distinction of the Church; at another, to bring them into contempt, and so hurry us into open revolt from the Church.
Amen!
To his wiles it was owing that for several ages the pure preaching of the word disappeared,
This is, of course, a self-serving, undemonstrated opinion, that presupposes the familiar "The Catholic Church fell away in [take your pick] 100, as soon as the Bible was completed and the last apostle died / 313 [Constantine] / 900 / with the Inquisition / in the early 16th century / at Trent" mentality. All these arguments fail miserably and are easily shot down. Calvin assumes some form of this throughout the Institutes.
and now, with the same dishonest aim, he labours to overthrow the ministry, which, however, Christ has so ordered in his Church, that if it is removed the whole edifice must fall.
Yet Calvin wars against bishops, popes, priests, continuing ecumenical councils, and maintains only a minimalist clergy.
How perilous, then, nay, how fatal the temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterise his Church! We see how great caution should be employed in both respects. That we may not be imposed upon by the name of Church, every congregation which claims the name must be brought to that test as to a Lydian stone.
How profoundly true!
If it holds the order instituted by the Lord in word and sacraments there will be no deception; we may safely pay it the honour due to a church: on the other hand, if it exhibit itself without word and sacraments, we must in this case be no less careful to avoid the imposture than we were to shun pride and presumption in the other.
And if it teaches novel, ahistorical doctrines contrary to the ones that have always been believed in the Catholic Church from the beginning, and consistently developed through the centuries, according to the Mind of that same Church, all Christians must avoid it.
12. Though the common profession should contain some corruption, this is not a sufficient reason for forsaking the visible Church. Some of these corruptions specified. Caution necessary. The duty of the members.
When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults.
In other words, the essentials define it, not the faults and corruptions in practice. Very true.
Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like.
All things concerning which Catholics and Calvinists are in full agreement . . .
Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord?
Here Calvin starts to exhibit a fatal flaw in Protestant thinking that has perpetually plagued it from the beginning: this notion of "primary" vs. "secondary" doctrines, where the latter are regarded as "up for grabs", so that Protestants may freely disagree with each other (and other Christians), thus adding a dangerous element of sanctioned doctrinal relativism. Catholics agree that some doctrines are far more important than others in the scheme of things, but they don't take this additional step of throwing all less important doctrines up to individual subjectivism and philosophical relativism.
The general notion of "essential" or "central" and "secondary" doctrines is an unbiblical distinction. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any implication that some things pertaining to doctrine and theology were optional, while others had to be believed. Jesus urged us to "observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19), without distinguishing between lesser and more central doctrines.
Likewise, St. Paul regards Christian Tradition as of one piece; not an amalgam of permissible competing theories: "the tradition that you received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6); "the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit" (2 Tim. 1:14); "the doctrine which you have been taught" (Rom. 16:17); "being in full accord and of one mind" (Phil. 2:2); "stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel," (Phil. 1:27). He, like Jesus, ties doctrinal unity together with the one God: ". . . maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, . . ." (Eph. 4:3-5).
St. Peter also refers to one, unified "way of righteousness" and "the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Pet. 2:21), while St. Jude urges us to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Luke 2:42 casually mentions "the apostles' teaching" without any hint that there were competing interpretations of it, or variations of the teaching.
The words of the Apostle are, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Phil. 3:15). Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians?
But this passage has been yanked out of context and made to apply to supposed doctrinal latitude, when in fact, St. Paul, in this entire chapter of Philippians, is discussing striving towards a salvation not yet certainly obtained. When Paul says "be thus minded" he is referring to his statement immediately prior:

Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This has nothing to do with supposed doctrinal disputes, as Calvin oddly seems to think. Elsewhere in the same book (and many other times throughout his letters) Paul makes clear that there is one truth and unchanging set of doctrines that he has passed on, without any shade of variability:
Philippians 1:25,27 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, . . . Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all, or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation.
Protestants have too readily given in to human ignorance and mere subjectivism: that is a huge part of its problem. It lacks authority to maintain unity because its principles undermined Church authority from the beginning.
Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord.
Again, the problem is that the original "minute" difference (even if we grant that it is, indeed, "minute" and inconsequential) quickly becomes a loophole, then a gaping hole, and finally, a broad highway of mutually contradictory opinions, leading to further dissent, sectarianism, acrimony, and doctrinal uncertainty. Nowhere does Holy Scripture ever envision such an uncontrolled state of affairs.
Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, “If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace” (1 Cor. 14:30). From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged.
This discipline has become practically impossible in Protestantism-at-large, because if discipline occurs, there is always the option of the person simply going to another denomination and starting afresh, or starting a new denomination altogether. There is no "Church" to speak of, given this absurd institutional division and multiplicity of competing sects.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,1:3-5) [Denial of Infallibility / the Elect / Private Judgment / Absolute Necessity of the Church]

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

* * * * *

Book IV

CHAPTER 1.

OF THE TRUE CHURCH. DUTY OF CULTIVATING UNITY WITH HER, AS THE MOTHER OF ALL THE GODLY.
3. What meant by the Communion of Saints. Whether it is inconsistent with various gifts in the saints, or with civil order. Uses of this article concerning the Church and the Communion of Saints. Must the Church be visible in order to our maintaining unity with her?
Moreover, this article of the Creed relates in some measure to the external Church, that every one of us must maintain brotherly concord with all the children of God, give due authority to the Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock.
Bravo! A sorely needed exhortation for Protestants today . . .
And hence the additional expression, the “communion of saints;” for this clause, though usually omitted by ancient writers, must not be overlooked, as it admirably expresses the quality of the Church; just as if it had been said, that saints are united in the fellowship of Christ on this condition, that all the blessings which God bestows upon them are mutually communicated to each other. This, however, is not incompatible with a diversity of graces, for we know that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed; nor is it incompatible with civil order, by which each is permitted privately to possess his own means, it being necessary for the preservation of peace among men that distinct rights of property should exist among them.
More admirable emphases . . . When Calvin is right, he is really right, and when he is wrong, he is dead-wrong.
Still a community is asserted, such as Luke describes when he says, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32); and Paul, when he reminds the Ephesians, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). For if they are truly persuaded that God is the common Father of them all, and Christ their common head, they cannot but be united together in brotherly love, and mutually impart their blessings to each other.
Amen! Yet Calvin's theology and ecclesiology ultimately war against and undermine this strong desire for profound unity, and the sad thing is that he never seems to have seen the irony or to have recognized the causal relationship between his teaching (where it departs from Catholic, apostolic tradition) and the fruits of the so-called "Reformation." Luther was the same way. I suppose it was too painful to acknowledge that their false teachings led to so much social uproar and doctrinal and ecclesiological chaos. Luther hints at times at this (and in the Peasants' Revolt, the connection -- at least partially -- is undeniably obvious), but never directly acknowledges it.
Then it is of the highest importance for us to know what benefit thence redounds to us. For when we believe the Church, it is in order that we may be firmly persuaded that we are its members.
Again, Calvin's denial (per all the Protestant revolutionaries) of conciliar and ecclesial infallibility directly undermines his recommending Christians to "believe the Church." For anyone always has a "loophole" to say (because of the Protestant bedrock principles of sola Scriptura and private judgment and supremacy of the individual conscience over against received tradition), "except in the case of doctrine A, where Mother Church is obviously wrong . . . " And as we know from constant experience with loopholes and "hard cases", the loophole soon becomes a gaping hole big enough for a truck to drive through, and the "hard case" and "exception to the rule" soon becomes the norm. Therefore, to assert a strong Church authority without the essential component of binding authority and infallibility, is self-defeating: if not immediately in principle, then inevitably in practice. This is plainly one fatal flaw in Calvin's ecclesiology.
In this way our salvation rests on a foundation so firm and sure, that though the whole fabric of the world were to give way, it could not be destroyed. First, it stands with the election of God, and cannot change or fail, any more than his eternal providence. Next, it is in a manner united with the stability of Christ, who will no more allow his faithful followers to be dissevered from him, than he would allow his own members to be torn to pieces.
That's right: whoever is truly of God's elect will be saved and cannot not be saved. That is a truism. But, as Calvin himself knows (noted in my last installment), no one person can be positive that they are included in the elect. Thus, it is an abstract (and definitely true) concept we can discuss, but it has no bearing on our alleged absolute assurance of salvation. Yet to this day many thousands of Calvinists (often now observed on the Internet) are perfectly obsessed with these notions of predestination and the elect, and frantically determining who is "in" and who is "out" (often with the utmost lack of charity and also blatant anti-Catholic prejudice and ignorance). Christians surely have far better and more important things to do to spend their time on. But this is one way that Satan zaps the energy and effectiveness of Christians: to keep them preoccupied with abstracts that have little or no bearing on day-to-day life and discipleship. We all tend to fall into this and have to be vigilant to avoid it. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.
We may add, that so long as we continue in the bosom of the Church, we are sure that the truth will remain with us.
"Sure"? This is untrue, given Protestant principles, that always allow the individual the right to judge and reject various teachings of the Church, just as Luther did, and as Calvin did, following his model of dissent. Just as they dissented against the Catholic Church, so (by the same epistemological and ecclesiological principles and premises) Protestants can dissent against their mere denominations and their supposed high "authority". Hence, denominations (even though utterly despised and condemned by both Luther and Calvin) were inevitable. How ironic and sad . . . Former Lutheran and Catholic convert Louis Bouyer, in his classic book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, makes an extended, fascinating (and, I think, compelling) argument about how Protestantism's first principles inevitably led to results not at all desired by the so-called "reformers" themselves.
There is a reason all of that occurred in history (it wasn't just a random accident): why the splits and divisions never end. It's because they are latent in the first principles of the Protestant movement. The Protestants were warned by the Church what would occur if they insisted on these premises (we Catholics knew full well what schism would lead to, and always leads to), but they refused to heed the advice. They knew better. The Church is wise enough to take the "long view" of history, and cause and effect. This is part and parcel of her Spirit-led wisdom. But the first Protestants, for some strange reason that has always been inexplicable to me, didn't seem to be able to see beyond their own noses, or have the slightest inkling of what their novel premises and fundamentals would lead to. Their ongoing strength was basically only as good as their amount of agreement with ancient Catholic teachings (a notion also argued by Louis Bouyer in his book, cited above).
Lastly, we feel that we have an interest in such promises as these, “In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance” (Joel 2:32; Obad. 17); “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” (Ps. 46:5). So available is communion with the Church to keep us in the fellowship of God. In the very term communion there is great consolation; because, while we are assured that everything which God bestows on his members belongs to us, all the blessings conferred upon them confirm our hope. But in order to embrace the unity of the Church in this manner, it is not necessary, as I have observed, to see it with our eyes, or feel it with our hands. Nay, rather from its being placed in faith, we are reminded that our thoughts are to dwell upon it, as much when it escapes our perception as when it openly appears.
All of this outwardly great thought about the Church, yet it is contradicted by Calvin's rule of faith, which (as history has now amply shown) in fact undermined all of this marvelously touted assurance and certainty and supposed guarantee of institutional (as well as doctrinal) unity. It's a case study of internal incoherence leading to bad consequences. Ideas do have consequences, after all.
Nor is our faith the worse for apprehending what is unknown, since we are not enjoined here to distinguish between the elect and the reprobate (this belongs not to us, but to God only), but to feel firmly assured in our minds, that all those who, by the mercy of God the Father, through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, have become partakers with Christ, are set apart as the proper and peculiar possession of God, and that as we are of the number, we are also partakers of this great grace.
Another worthy statement of caution, urging his followers to not speculate about who is of the elect and who is not: tragically unheeded by many Calvinists and also "instantaneous salvation / eternal security" sorts of Protestants: the result being much worthless and unedifying conversation and fruitless speculation. If they would all simply heed Calvin's advice, this could be avoided and maybe the seemingly endless energy and zeal could be expended towards a bit more important activities, such as, for example, reaching out to the lost and sharing the gospel with them, rather than foolishly concluding that fellow Christians (notably, Catholics) are certainly lost and should be condemned and treated with extreme harshness for being supposedly lost and "enemies of God," etc. May the Lord help us all to be good stewards of our time.
4. The name of Mother given to the Church shows how necessary it is to know her. No salvation out of the Church.
But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church,
Note that Calvin maintains a notion of the visible Church: not merely invisible. We saw this also in his reference to the "external Church" in the previous section. Thus, he accepts this "Catholic" belief; he is simply inconsistent in applying it and in blending it with his rule of faith, where an inherent incoherence and a clash of principles is entailed.
let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Mt. 22:30).
An extraordinary expression of Church authority . . . Calvin essentially states that the Church is necessary for salvation (virtually asserting, "outside the Church there is no salvation"), which is, of course, Catholic doctrine, and foreign to the mentality of many Protestants today, and even from the beginning of their movement, for those (such as the Anabaptists) termed "radical reformers" even by fellow Protestants.
For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify (Isa. 37:32; Joel 2:32).
Calvin asserts the same thing in even stronger terms, and it's certainly true as far as Calvin intends it. . . this should be required, standard reading for every Protestant and regularly taught in their Sunday schools. And then we Catholics need to tell them after they learn this basic stuff, that an infallible Church is the necessary and perfectly natural accompaniment of this true teaching of the necessity of the Church as Mother and trustworthy teacher. Protestants don't have that (don't even claim to have it); we both claim it and actually possess it, by God's express design, and only due to His supernatural guidance and protection. Here are Calvin's prooftexts, that are interesting insofar as they are specifically tied to the OT concept of "remnant":
Isaiah 37:31-32 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; [32] for out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Joel 2:32 And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, “They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel” (Ezek. 3:9); as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, “Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance” (Ps. 106:4, 5). By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.
In other words, Calvin draws a useful and compelling analogy between the chosen nation of Israel in the Old Covenant, and the Body of Christ, the Church, in the New Covenant. He often makes good analogical arguments of this sort. I have utilized one of them myself in my own apologetics: his analogy (following Paul) between circumcision and infant baptism.
5. The Church is our mother, inasmuch as God has committed to her the kind office of bringing us up in the faith until we attain full age. This method of education not to be despised. Useful to us in two ways. This utility destroyed by those who despise the pastors and teachers of the Church. The petulance of such despisers repressed by reason and Scripture. For this education of the Church her children enjoined to meet in the sanctuary. The abuse of churches both before and since the advent of Christ. Their proper use.
But let us proceed to a full exposition of this view. Paul says that our Saviour “ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:10-13). We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the Church.

Amen! So much for the radical versions of sola Scriptura rampant today: what are often called by the more articulate Protestants, solo Scriptura. Calvin's version, though still ultimately internally incoherent, at least still had a strong place for the Church (even if partially erroneously defined). We should give credit where it is due.

We see the mode of doing it expressed; the preaching of celestial doctrine is committed to pastors. We see that all without exception are brought into the same order, that they may with meek and docile spirit allow themselves to be governed by teachers appointed for this purpose.

One can hardly be "governed" by pastors if one always has the "right" to question their authority at every turn by a bogus appeal to "private judgment." I have firsthand experience of this internal contradiction myself. My old pastor used to say from the pulpit: "keep your pastors honest and correct them from the Bible if they go astray." Well, I did that, and it wasn't pretty. I was denounced from the pulpit as a troublemaker. So Protestants can question their pastors in good conscience but at the same time they can't. The same tension is present in Calvin and never satisfactorily resolved. He himself took very poorly to being corrected by anyone, and was brutal with theological opponents (even, at times, with Luther himself). Yet he had no authority than anyone else. He simply assumed it without adequate reason. Calvin once described Lutheranism as "evil." Lutherans and Calvinists bitterly fought and wrangled in wars with words, too. Who was right? More importantly for our purposes, how could the two settle their differences, since both appealed to Scripture and claimed to be authoritative? As we know, there was no way to resolve the conundrum.

Isaiah had long before given this as the characteristic of the kingdom of Christ, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever” (Isa. 59:21).

A good description of the very infallibility of the Church that Calvin rejects . . .

Hence it follows, that all who reject the spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of the Church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine.

And how do we find this Church so we may follow its heaven-sent teaching? We look for Calvin and wherever he is, is where the one true Church resides?

God inspires us with faith, but it is by the instrumentality of his gospel, as Paul reminds us, “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). God reserves to himself the power of maintaining it, but it is by the preaching of the gospel, as Paul also declares, that he brings it forth and unfolds it.

Indeed. There is a perfectly motivating reason for evangelism, and lots of it. We are vehicles used by God to distribute His grace.

With this view, it pleased him in ancient times that sacred meetings should be held in the sanctuary, that consent in faith might be nourished by doctrine proceeding from the lips of the priest.

How often do we hear this sort of language from Calvinists today? They need to go back to their roots, from within their own paradigm, just as Catholics need to do that, too.

Those magnificent titles, as when the temple is called God’s rest, his sanctuary, his habitation, and when he is said to dwell between the cherubims (Ps 32:13, 14; 80:1), are used for no other purpose than to procure respect, love, reverence, and dignity to the ministry of heavenly doctrine, to which otherwise the appearance of an insignificant human being might be in no slight degree derogatory. Therefore, to teach us that the treasure offered to us in earthen vessels is of inestimable value (2 Cor. 4:7), God himself appears and, as the author of this ordinance, requires his presence to be recognised in his own institution.

Indeed; this is the same sort of sentiment that causes we Catholics to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Calvin obviously didn't see that connection, having rejected the apostolic, patristic, Catholic doctrine of the substantial presence and substituted a mystical, "spiritual" presence which is scarcely indistinguishable from the omnipresence of God.

Accordingly, after forbidding his people to give heed to familiar spirits, wizards, and other superstitions (Lev. 19:30, 31), he adds, that he will give what ought to be sufficient for all—namely, that he will never leave them without prophets.

Luther seemed to think he was some sort of prophet. Maybe Calvin did, too (and if so, was, of course -- very unlike Luther, -- too humble to ever assert his office), which would explain a lot.

For, as he did not commit his ancient people to angels, but raised up teachers on the earth to perform a truly angelical office, so he is pleased to instruct us in the present day by human means.

Yes; but we disagree that these "human means" can ever contradict the received doctrines of the Church.

But as anciently he did not confine himself to the law merely, but added priests as interpreters, from whose lips the people might inquire after his true meaning,

Authoritative interpretation! How interesting . . .

so in the present day he would not only have us to be attentive to reading, but has appointed masters to give us their assistance. In this there is a twofold advantage. For, on the one hand, he by an admirable test proves our obedience when we listen to his ministers just as we would to himself;

Obedience to the Church is a good thing, but again, what is the true Church; why should we think Calvin heads it (rather than, say, Luther or Henry VIII or various Anabaptist "prophets"), etc.?

while, on the other hand, he consults our weakness in being pleased to address us after the manner of men by means of interpreters, that he may thus allure us to himself, instead of driving us away by his thunder.

Exactly. God always uses men because we respond better to our own.

How well this familiar mode of teaching is suited to us all the godly are aware, from the dread with which the divine majesty justly inspires them. Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them.

This is an excellent argument for the lack of impeccability in the pope not being any sort of reason to suppose that God is not speaking through him. The pope is "consecrated" in those special instances where he proclaims a doctrine to be infallible. God is "making his own voice to be heard in them". I don't think any Catholic could have expressed it more eloquently.

Wherefore, let us not on our part decline obediently to embrace the doctrine of salvation, delivered by his command and mouth; because, although the power of God is not confined to external means, he has, however, confined us to his ordinary method of teaching, which method, when fanatics refuse to observe, they entangle themselves in many fatal snares.

Indeed. The ones who disagreed with Calvin, were, relatively, "fanatics." But how is that essentially different from the Catholic Church's stance whereby it deemed that Protestantism was a radical dissenting movement? Calvin (rather remarkably) everywhere seems to assume that the Church now resides peculiarly in his own environs. Yet he can't prove that the ancient Catholic Church has decisively fallen away from its unique status. He assumes it, just as Luther does. In other places, however, he will acknowledge some remote remnant of the true Church remaining in Catholicism (such as his position that it retains true baptism and some other genuine attributes; see, e.g., Inst., IV, 2:11-12), but apart from that, he thinks the "ball has been passed" to the Calvinist "Church" as the remnant, over against the Catholic Church headed by the pope.

Pride, or fastidiousness, or emulation, induces many to persuade themselves that they can profit sufficiently by reading and meditating in private, and thus to despise public meetings, and deem preaching superfluous. But since as much as in them lies they loose or burst the sacred bond of unity, none of them escapes the just punishment of this impious divorce, but become fascinated with pestiferous errors, and the foulest delusions.

A wonderful condemnation of sectarianism and the "lone ranger" Christian, that we see so often today.

Wherefore, in order that the pure simplicity of the faith may flourish among us, let us not decline to use this exercise of piety, which God by his institution of it has shown to be necessary, and which he so highly recommends. None, even among the most petulant of men, would venture to say, that we are to shut our ears against God, but in all ages prophets and pious teachers have had a difficult contest to maintain with the ungodly, whose perverseness cannot submit to the yoke of being taught by the lips and ministry of men.

Indeed. That's why Catholics have always been concerned to maintain the teaching ministry of the magisterium: popes, bishops, councils, priests, catechisms. Calvin systematically got rid of all except some sort of catechism: an odd thing to do if he was concerned with the high importance of a guiding teaching authority.

This is just the same as if they were to destroy the impress of God as exhibited to us in doctrine. For no other reason were believers anciently enjoined to seek the face of God in the sanctuary (Ps. 105:4) (an injunction so often repeated in the Law), than because the doctrine of the Law, and the exhortations of the prophets, were to them a living image of God. Thus Paul declares, that in his preaching the glory of God shone in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The more detestable are the apostates who delight in producing schisms in churches, just as if they wished to drive the sheep from the fold, and throw them into the jaws of wolves.

Exactly. Once we determine what schism is and what the true Church is, then it is seen that Calvin participated in and fostered the very thing that he vociferously condemned over and over. That is the ironic tragedy of his revolutionary movement.

Let us hold, agreeably to the passage we quoted from Paul, that the Church can only be edified by external preaching, and that there is no other bond by which the saints can be kept together than by uniting with one consent to observe the order which God has appointed in his Church for learning and making progress. For this end, especially, as I have observed, believers were anciently enjoined under the Law to flock together to the sanctuary; for when Moses speaks of the habitation of God, he at the same time calls it the place of the name of God, the place where he will record his name (Exod. 20:24); thus plainly teaching that no use could be made of it without the doctrine of godliness. And there can be no doubt that, for the same reason, David complains with great bitterness of soul, that by the tyrannical cruelty of his enemies he was prevented from entering the tabernacle (Ps. 84).

Yet many of Calvin's very followers were iconoclasts and had quite a low view of sanctuaries, since they went around smashing statues even of Christ, and organs, and stained glass, as if they were some evil thing. The same sanctuary Calvin refers to (the old temple and tabernacles) had huge images of cherubim on the walls. But the profoundly biblical notions of sacred and holy places and of physical objects as aids of worship have gradually become nonexistent among Protestants (particularly Calvinists).

To many the complaint seems childish, as if no great loss were sustained, not much pleasure lost, by exclusion from the temple, provided other amusements were enjoyed. David, however, laments this one deprivation, as filling him with anxiety and sadness, tormenting, and almost destroying him. This he does because there is nothing on which believers set a higher value than on this aid, by which God gradually raises his people to heaven. For it is to be observed, that he always exhibited himself to the holy patriarchs in the mirror of his doctrine in such a way as to make their knowledge spiritual. Whence the temple is not only styled his face, but also, for the purpose of removing all superstition, is termed his footstool (Ps. 132:7; 99:5). Herein is the unity of the faith happily realised, when all, from the highest to the lowest, aspire to the head. All the temples which the Gentiles built to God with a different intention were a mere profanation of his worship,—a profanation into which the Jews also fell, though not with equal grossness. With this Stephen upbraids them in the words of Isaiah when he says, “Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the Prophet, Heaven is my throne,” &c. (Acts 7:48). For God only consecrates temples to their legitimate use by his word. And when we rashly attempt anything without his order, immediately setting out from a bad principle, we introduce adventitious fictions, by which evil is propagated without measure.

All true . . .

It was inconsiderate in Xerxes when, by the advice of the magians, he burnt or pulled down all the temples of Greece, because he thought it absurd that God, to whom all things ought to be free and open, should be enclosed by walls and roofs, as if it were not in the power of God in a manner to descend to us, that he may be near to us, and yet neither change his place nor affect us by earthly means, but rather, by a kind of vehicles, raise us aloft to his own heavenly glory, which, with its immensity, fills all things, and in height is above the heavens.

Another good argument for the "holy place" . . . Would that Calvinists today felt the same way. A Christian church set aside for worship of God is not a barn or a gymnasium or a sports arena or airplane hangar. It is a holy and sanctified place, set aside. Calvin commendably argues all this, yet it is clearly a consciousness that is largely lost among Calvinists and other Protestants today. In this respect, Calvin sounds far more Catholic than Protestant (though not in agreement with us in all respects, even in this area).