* * * * *
2. This falsehood prevails under the Papacy. Hence the Papacy is not a Church. Still the Papists extol their own Church, and charge those who dissent from it with heresy and schism. They attempt to defend their vaunting by the name of personal succession. A succession which abandons the truth of Christ proved to be of no importance.
Calvin had just stated in the previous section: "it is certain that there is no Church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy." As throughout, Calvin assumes false doctrine as crept in, without immediate argument (though he probably makes the argument somewhere in his writings). He seems to ignore the biblical "fact" (that I went over in the last installment and have expanded since in an independent paper) that the true Church cannot defect or fall into total apostasy. That's not possible. So if a Church ever was the Church, it cannot later fail to be so.
There, instead of the ministry of the word, prevails a perverted government, compounded of lies, a government which partly extinguishes, partly suppresses, the pure light.
No argument is given here. If Calvin produces an argument for why he believes this in due course, then I'll reply. As it is, In am replying to his positions as I encounter his defenses of them (as opposed to mere bald statements of his position). Calvin's anti-Catholicism will be evident throughout, so that it won't be possible to make a counter-remark every time it appears. That would be redundant for the reader and boring and tedious for me as well.
In place of the Lord’s Supper, the foulest sacrilege has entered, the worship of God is deformed by a varied mass of intolerable superstitions; doctrine (without which Christianity exists not) is wholly buried and exploded, the public assemblies are schools of idolatry and impiety.
Calvin's irrational, almost crazed railing against the Mass as a "superstition" and "blasphemy" and "idolatry" and so forth, will also be a very common theme. Again, I'll wait till he gives an actual rationale for why he believes this before defending the Catholic Mass. For now, I'll refer interested readers to the patristic evidence for the sacrifice of the Mass that I have brought to the fore, in dialogue with a Lutheran historian:
Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Witness of the Church Fathers & the Bible (+ Part II / Part III)Wherefore, in declining fatal participation in such wickedness, we run no risk of being dissevered from the Church of Christ. The communion of the Church was not instituted to be a chain to bind us in idolatry, impiety, ignorance of God, and other kinds of evil, but rather to retain us in the fear of God and obedience of the truth.
Dialogue on the Development of the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Fathers
Indeed. The statement is true, but the application of it to the Catholic Church is false.
They, indeed, vaunt loudly of their Church, as if there was not another in the world;
There is but one Church, biblically speaking, so obviously any Christian would identify the one he is in with that true Church, or else redefine the term altogether (and go the "invisible church" route). Calvin hedges his bets and tries to do both simultaneously, which is not logically possible to do. But any argument he can muster against the Catholic Church, no matter how blunt an ax and how inconsistent with other of his arguments, will do. Thus, even a person as logical and systematic as Calvin is often done in by his incipient anti-Catholic prejudices and the need to constantly justify the existence of his own sectarian "church" and schism.
and then, as if the matter were ended, they make out that all are schismatics who withdraw from obedience to that Church which they thus depict, that all are heretics who presume to whisper against its doctrine (see sec 5).
That would inexorably follow, yes, if the Church is infallible; protected by God against doctrinal error. Calvin uses the exact same reasoning chain in how he deals with dissidents from his own doctrine, so obviously the question comes down to relative strengths of competing truth claims as to where the true Church is to be found.
But by what arguments do they prove their possession of the true Church?
Oh, by many many arguments indeed (see a lot of them on my Church web page). By what arguments does Calvin prove that his "church" replaces the Catholic Church (and, for that matter, is superior to that of Luther and the many other Protestant sectarians that were already flourishing in his lifetime)? Now that is the crux of the matter . . .
They appeal to ancient records which formerly existed in Italy, France, and Spain, pretending to derive their origin from those holy men who, by sound doctrine, founded and raised up churches, confirmed the doctrine, and reared the edifice of the Church with their blood; they pretend that the Church thus consecrated by spiritual gifts and the blood of martyrs was preserved from destruction by a perpetual succession of bishops.
Apostolic succession is an explicitly biblical notion, and also very firmly entrenched in the thinking of the early Church.
They dwell on the importance which Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and others, attached to this succession (see sec. 3).
Absolutely. Why would anyone not do so? Calvin constantly appeals to the Church fathers in support of his positions. He cites St. Augustine at the end of the next section, below. Why should a Catholic not do the same?
How frivolous and plainly ludicrous these allegations are, I will enable any, who will for a little consider the matter with me, to understand without any difficulty.
We thank Calvin for his thoughtful consideration . . .
I would also exhort our opponents to give their serious attention, if I had any hope of being able to benefit them by instruction;
I certainly am doing that, by paying Calvin the compliment of grappling with his reasoning section by section.
but since they have laid aside all regard to truth, and make it their only aim to prosecute their own ends in whatever way they can, I will only make a few observations by which good men and lovers of truth may disentangle themselves from their quibbles.
Oh, too bad. But, though Calvin may think I care nothing about truth, being a dreaded Catholic, I trust that readers will perceive otherwise, and they are my target audience, not Calvin himself. And I always trust that the fair-minded reader can make out who has the best case, and where the truth most likely resides, if he is able to read both sides. Hence, this present in-depth project.
First, I ask them why they do not quote Africa, and Egypt, and all Asia, just because in all those regions there was a cessation of that sacred succession, by the aid of which they vaunt of having continued churches. They therefore fall back on the assertion, that they have the true Church, because ever since it began to exist it was never destitute of bishops, because they succeeded each other in an unbroken series.
That is correct. That is how the Church fathers (St. Irenæus perhaps most of all) always argued the point of authority: it was the final appeal, after Scripture had been argued about. What we receive both from Scripture and by the consensus of the fathers, is true (as we believe, from the eyes of faith). That was how it had always been in the Church, until Protestantism took a completely different course on the question of authority and the rule of faith.
But what if I bring Greece before them? Therefore, I again ask them, Why they say that the Church perished among the Greeks, among whom there never was any interruption in the succession of bishops—a succession, in their opinion, the only guardian and preserver of the Church?
I'm not sure that the Catholic Church ever denied that the Orthodox continued to have apostolic succession. If so, we certainly do not now. What would have been claimed, I believe, was they they were in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church, headed by the pope. The nearness of achieved reunion at the councils of Lyons and Florence in the previous 300 years demonstrated how close the two communions were.
They make the Greeks schismatics. Why? because, by revolting from the Apostolic See, they lost their privilege.
The East had a long, sad history of schism from Rome for the wrong reasons. In at least five cases, they were on the wrong side, as they themselves admit. I've written about this:
That would be one of our arguments, if the choice is between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as continuing the "main line" of apostolic succession. They had spit off many times before and were wrong; therefore, we conclude that their splitting off in 1054 was also wrong and ultimately unjustified (though humanly speaking, both sides were guilty of sin).
Both East and West acknowledge wrongdoing in the tragic events leading up to 1054 when the schism finalized. Nevertheless, it is undeniably true that the West (and especially the Roman See) had a much more solid and consistent record of orthodoxy. For example, the Eastern Church split off from Rome and the Catholic Church on at least six occasions before 1054:
The Arian schisms (343-98);This adds up to 231 out of 500 years in schism (46% of the time)! In every case, Rome was on the right side of the debate in terms of what was later considered "orthodox" by both sides. Thus, the East clearly needed the West and the papacy and Rome in order to be ushered back to orthodoxy.
The controversy over St. John Chrysostom (404-415);
The Acacian schism (484-519);
Concerning Monothelitism (640-681);
Concerning Iconoclasm (726-87 and 815-43).
What? Do not those who revolt from Christ much more deserve to lose it?
Yes; if that can be proven to be the case, rather than axiomatically asserted, sans any argument.
It follows, therefore, that the pretence of succession is vain, if posterity do not retain the truth of Christ, which was handed down to them by their fathers, safe and uncorrupted, and continue in it.
Calvin begs the question in droves. When he offers an argument, he'll be answered.
In the present day, therefore, the presence of the Romanists is just the same as that which appears to have been formerly used by the Jews, when the Prophets of the Lord charged them with blindness, impiety, and idolatry.
But Calvin contradicts himself, because in previous sections (not far away from this one) he had argued that sin among the Jews did not disqualify them as a proto-Church: as God's chosen. So he makes that argument when he thinks it'll bolster his own ecclesiological claims, and then contradicts it when the target of criticism is the Catholic Church. When he compares his own "church" to the ancient Jews, of course it is to the noble remnant that God never abandoned. When he compares the Catholic Church to the ancient Jews, it is to the blind Pharisees, etc. But he himself had argued that sinners are in the Church and that this doesn't prove there is no Church. He does that in one place, but then turns around and denies the traditional, highly biblical doctrine of indefectibility in another. Whether he was aware of this internal inconsistency can scarcely be determined at this late date. I suspect that he wasn't, and that prejudice against the Catholic Church and polemical excess account for the departure from consistent reasoning (as it often does in similar arguments today made by his followers).
For as the Jews proudly vaunted of their temple, ceremonies, and priesthood, by which, with strong reason, as they supposed, they measured the Church, so, instead of the Church, we are presented by the Romanists with certain external masks, which often are far from being connected with the Church, and without which the Church can perfectly exist.
This gets into Calvin's denial of the priesthood and the Mass, which is itself without reasonable, historical, or biblical foundation.
Wherefore, we need no other argument to refute them than that with which Jeremiah opposed the foolish confidence of the Jews—namely, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these” (Jer. 7:4).
No Catholic worth his salt -- who knows anything about his faith -- trusts in the Church per se, as a mere human institution, but in the Church as protected by God the Holy Spirit. It's faith in God Himself. The Church is God's instrument for conveying His truths. This is not a foreign concept to Calvin, as he himself had taught in previous sections (that I have already covered) about the necessity of the Church as a sort of "mother" to a Christian. For example:
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. 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.This is what we believe, just as Calvin does. But Calvin won't recognize it if a Catholic believes it, and of course he is also wrong about where the one true Church is to be found.
But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, 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). 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). . . . the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.
The Lord recognises nothing as his own, save when his word is heard and religiously observed.
Correct doctrine must be present in the true Church, certainly.
Thus, though the glory of God sat in the sanctuary between the cherubim (Ezek. 10:4), and he had promised that he would there have his stated abode, still when the priests corrupted his worship by depraved superstitions, he transferred it elsewhere, and left the place without any sanctity.
That's correct. But Calvin neglects the larger picture. There was no end of the OT "proto-Church" at this point, for in the very next chapter the prophet speaks of another renewal:
Ezekiel 11:16-21 Therefore say, `Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.'  Therefore say, `Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.'  And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations.  And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,  that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.  But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will requite their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord GOD."Connected to this motif in the prophets, of the new covenant (see also Jeremiah 31:31-34) was the notion of universal "pure offering" which was fulfilled by the Catholic Mass:
Isaiah 66:18,21 For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, . . .  And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.If that temple which seemed consecrated for the perpetual habitation of God, could be abandoned by God and become profane, the Romanists have no ground to pretend that God is so bound to persons or places, and fixed to external observances, that he must remain with those who have only the name and semblance of a Church.
Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
Catholics respond that they have the promises of Christ, to always be with us. He not only indwells us (1 Cor 3:9-16; 6:19), but comes to us in the Holy Eucharist, without which we have no salvation (John 6:53-58):
Matthew 28:20 . . . I am with you always, to the close of the age.These promises are stronger than the Old Covenant promises, because they result from the death of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Calvin cannot use OT analogies (in this regard) to prove that the Catholic Church could defect from the truth, or that Christ would depart from her. We also have the prophecies of a universal priesthood, such as in Isaiah 66 and Malachi 1 (seen above), and of Jesus' eternal priesthood, which is closely connected to the sacrifice of the mass (Ps 110:4; Heb 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1-28).
John 14:16-17 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
This is the question which Paul discusses in the Epistle to the Romans, from the ninth to the twelfth chapter. Weak consciences were greatly disturbed, when those who seemed to be the people of God not only rejected, but even persecuted the doctrine of the Gospel. Therefore, after expounding doctrine, he removes this difficulty, denying that those Jews, the enemies of the truth, were the Church, though they wanted nothing which might otherwise have been desired to the external form of the Church.
Obviously the Church was a different entity from the Jewish people. No one will argue that. However, for the present purposes, did St. Paul argue in Romans 9-12 that the Jews were completely cut off from God (as he pretty much argues is the case with the Catholic Church)? No. More than once he states the opposite:
Romans 9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;The ground of his denial is, that they did not embrace Christ.
Romans 11:1-5 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Eli'jah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  "Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life."  But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Ba'al."  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
Romans 11:26-29 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";  "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins."  As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.  For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Catholics embrace Christ!
In the Epistle to the Galatians, when comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he says still more expressly, that many hold a place in the Church to whom the inheritance does not belong, because they were not the offspring of a free parent. From this he proceeds to draw a contrast between two Jerusalems, because as the Law was given on Mount Sinai, but the Gospel proceeded from Jerusalem, so many who were born and brought up in servitude confidently boast that they are the sons of God and of the Church; nay, while they are themselves degenerate, proudly despise the genuine sons of God.
There are always wolves in sheep's clothing, or those who fall away from faith, or who never possessed it and only thought they did. But whether this can be applied to the Catholic Church as a whole is the question under consideration. So far Calvin hasn't provided his readers with any compelling reason to think that it does. He continues to engage in special pleading. It sounds wonderfully elegant and impressive, but it doesn't prove anything.
Let us also, in like manner, when we hear that it was once declared from heaven, “Cast out the bondmaid and her son,” trust to this inviolable decree, and boldly despise their unmeaning boasts. For if they plume themselves on external profession, Ishmael also was circumcised: if they found on antiquity, he was the first-born: and yet we see that he was rejected. If the reason is asked, Paul assigns it (Rom. 9:6), that those only are accounted sons who are born of the pure and legitimate seed of doctrine. On this ground God declares that he was not astricted to impious priests, though he had made a covenant with their father Levi, to be their angel, or interpreter (Mal. 2:4); nay, he retorts the false boast by which they were wont to rise against the Prophets—namely, that the dignity of the priesthood was to be held in singular estimation. This he himself willingly admits: and he disputes with them, on the ground that he is ready to fulfil the covenant, while they, by not fulfilling it on their part, deserve to be rejected.
None of this proves in the slightest that God rejected that which had been His Church, that He established. He will not do that, because He has promised many times not to, and that is enough. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would fall in the face of the Church, not that the Church would fall by virtue of the devil's onslaughts (Matthew 16:18-19).
Here, then, is the value of succession when not conjoined with imitation and corresponding conduct: posterity, as soon as they are convicted of having revolted from their origin, are deprived of all honour; unless, indeed, we are prepared to say, that because Caiaphas succeeded many pious priests (nay, the series from Aaron to him was continuous), that accursed assembly deserved the name of Church.
If there was no sense whatever in which the Jewish people could be in some sense a "Church" in primitive form, why, then, did Jesus tell His followers to follow the teaching of the Pharisees (though not their conduct: Matthew 23:2-3), because they sat on "Moses' seat"? Why did St. Paul call himself a "Pharisee" three times, after the Resurrection (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5)? Why did he show respect to the high priest, even when he was on trial (Acts 23:4-5)? Why was Paul was still worshiping and even presiding over the services in synagogues (Acts 13:13-44)?
Acts 3:1 tells us that Peter and John were worshiping at the Temple, during the ninth hour. The notes in my RSV explain that the ninth hour was 3 PM "when sacrifice was offered with prayer (Ex 29.39; Lev. 6.20; Josephus, Ant. xiv.4.3)." Acts 2:46 described the early Christians as "day by day, attending the temple together." This would have certainly included St. Paul, too, when he was in Jerusalem, and he himself alludes to his presence in the Temple as well as synagogues (Acts 24:12), and is described as continuing to participate in Temple rituals (Acts 21:26: "Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them" -- cf. 25:8: "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all"). In Acts 22:7 he refers to his practice of "praying in the temple," and in Acts 24:18 as having been "purified in the temple" (see also 24:17: "I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings").
Even in earthly governments, no one would bear to see the tyranny of Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, and the like, described as the true condition of a republic, because they succeeded such men as Brutus, Scipio, and Camillus. That in the government of the Church especially, nothing is more absurd than to disregard doctrine, and place succession in persons.
No one is disregarding doctrine; Catholics and Protestants disagreed on what the true doctrine was. But Catholics had history on their side; Protestants did not. As for succession, that is a biblical doctrine, which wwe are not at liberty to reject, just because Calvin says so. A scriptural argument can be made for even papal succession. I've submitted one myself, in a paper on that very topic:
Only Peter was given the keys of the kingdom, and this had a whole history of thought behind it. Basically it meant that he was the supervisor of the Church.Nor, indeed, was anything farther from the intention of the holy teachers, whom they falsely obtrude upon us, than to maintain distinctly that churches exist, as by hereditary right, wherever bishops have been uniformly succeeded by bishops.
The argument then becomes one of succession. I think it is plain common sense. If an office of the pope was truly intended to be set up by Jesus, why in the world would anyone think it was solely for the lifetime of Peter and then it would vanish? The Church supposedly has a supervisor for ten, twenty years, but then never does again? That makes no sense. What would be the point?
In fact, the analogy of the keys, that comes from Isaiah 22 (as all agree) was itself referring to an office of the royal court, that had succession. If the office itself was used by Jesus as an analogy, then why not also the succession inherently involved in the office?
When other offices are referred to in the Bible (excepting the apostles and perhaps prophets: but there is a biblical argument that bishops are the successors of the apostles), they were clearly regarded as permanent and ongoing (deacons, elders, pastors / priests / bishops). If that is the case, why would the papacy (granting that it exists as an office at all) be only temporary? By analogy, then, it follows that this office is perpetual just as the others are. If you have bishops, then it makes sense to have a chief bishop.
Moreover, the very nature of the concept of office is that it is bigger than one mere person who occupies it: even the first and most extraordinary one who does. It's quite obvious that Jesus' commissioning of Peter was the creation of a new office or position. It had to do with the governance of the Church and jurisdiction and power. Jesus gave the disciples collectively the power to bind and loose (which meant, in rabbinic terms, to impose penance or grant absolution or release from penance): Matthew 18:18, but He gave the same power to Peter individually (Matthew 16:19). And so it is today: bishops have magisterial power only in a collective sense, whereas the pope has it on his own (though he routinely acts in concert with bishops).
The continuity was doctrinal. It wasn't a guarantee that everyone in each individual church would be a perfect saint. This is patristic teaching (based on biblical teaching). If Calvin wishes to reject it, then he needs to at least give us a solid reason why. Thus far, he has completely failed to do so.
But while it was without controversy that no change had been made in doctrine from the beginning down to their day, they assumed it to be a sufficient refutation of all their errors, that they were opposed to the doctrine maintained constantly, and with unanimous consent, even by the apostles themselves. They have, therefore, no longer any ground for proceeding to make a gloss of the name of the Church, which we regard with due reverence; but when we come to definition, not only (to use the common expression) does the water adhere to them, but they stick in their own mire, because they substitute a vile prostitute for the sacred spouse of Christ.
This is the claim, but why is it believed? At what point did this true Church become so apostate that it can't even be called a Church anymore? Apart from that being an impossibility, in faith, because of strong biblical teaching on indefectibility, it is absurd even from a strictly historical viewpoint for an entity to, all of a sudden, become the opposite of itself: the mirror image of what it had always claimed to be. In what year did the Catholic Church supposedly reject Jesus Christ? When did idolatry become firmly entrenched in the Mass and weekly worship of Christians? Etc., etc. It's very easy to locate a "Catholic" eucharistic theology and even the sacrifice of the Mass, early and widespread in patristic literature. I've done it many times myself. Calvin doesn't answer those questions: nor do his followers today hardly ever do so, because then the absurdity and ridiculous, self-defeating nature of the anti-Catholic position would be thoroughly manifest.
That the substitution may not deceive us, let us, among other admonitions, attend to the following from Augustine. Speaking of the Church, he says, “She herself is sometimes obscured, and, as it were, beclouded by a multitude of scandals; sometimes, in a time of tranquillity, she appears quiet and free; sometimes she is covered and tossed by the billows of tribulation and trial.”—(August. ad Vincent. Epist. 48). As instances, he mentions that the strongest pillars of the Church often bravely endured exile for the faith, or lay hid throughout the world.
This is true. But St. Augustine didn't reject the Catholic Church, as Calvin did. And St. Augustine firmly believed in the sacrifice of the mass. Why, then, doesn't Calvin go after him and reject him as a Christian, as he wants to do to the Catholic Church at large, and almost all of its adherents? For St. Augustine wrote:
- Christ is both the priest, offering Himself, and Himself the Victim. He willed that the sacramental sign of this should be the daily sacrifice of the Church.
- (City of God, 10, 20)
- Not only is no one forbidden to take as food the Blood of this Sacrifice, rather, all who wish to possess life are exhorted to drink thereof.
- (Questions of the Hepateuch, 3, 57)
- The self-same Christ Who was slain there is in a real sense slaughtered daily by the faithful, so that the sacrifice which was offered once for all in bloody form is sacramentally renewed upon our altars with the oblation of His body and blood.
- (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised 1978 edition 454; further sources: Ep. 98:9; cf. C. Faust, 20,18; 20:21)