Sunday, May 24, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,5:11-19) [Corruption / Boy-Bishops & Boy-Kings / Church Buildings / Concern for the Poor]

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

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Book IV

CHAPTER 5

THE ANCIENT FORM OF GOVERNMENT UTTERLY CORRUPTED BY THE TYRANNY OF THE PAPACY.

11. The bishops and rectors of parishes, by deserting their churches, glory only in an empty name.

There still remain bishops and rectors of parishes; and I wish that they would contend for the maintenance of their office. I would willingly grant that they have a pious and excellent office if they would discharge it; but when they desert the churches committed to them, and throwing the care upon others, would still be considered pastors, they just act as if the office of pastor were to do nothing. If any usurer, who never stirs from the city, were to give himself out as a ploughman or vine-dresser; or a soldier, who has constantly been in the field or the camp, and has never seen books or the forum, to pass for a lawyer, who could tolerate the absurdity? Much more absurdly do those act who would be called and deemed lawful pastors of the Church, and are unwilling so to be. How few are those who in appearance even take the superintendence of their church? Many spend their lives in devouring the revenues of churches which they never visit even for the purpose of inspection. Some once a-year go themselves or send a steward, that nothing may be lost in the letting of them. When the corruption first crept in, those who wished to enjoy this kind of vacation pleaded privilege, but it is now a rare case for any one to reside in his church. They look upon them merely in the light of farms, over which they appoint their vicars as grieves or husbandmen. But it is repugnant to common sense to regard him as a shepherd who has never seen a sheep of his flock.

My purpose is not to argue against or deny the incidence of corruption on either side. I want to see the biblical and historic arguments that Calvin makes, and respond to them.

12. The seeds of this evil in the age of Gregory, who inveighs against mercenaries. More sharply rebuked by Bernard.

It appears that in the time of Gregory some of the seeds of this corruption existed, the rulers of churches having begun to be more negligent in teaching; for he thus bitterly complains: “The world is full of priests, and yet labourers in the harvest are rare, for we indeed undertake the office of the priesthood, but we perform not the work of the office” (Gregor. Hom. 17). Again, “As they have no bowels of love, they would be thought lords, but do not at all acknowledge themselves to be fathers. They change a post of humility into the elevation of ascendancy.” Again, “But we, O pastors! what are we doing, we who obtain the hire but are not labourers? We have fallen off to extraneous business; we undertake one thing, we perform another; we leave the ministry of the word, and, to our punishment, as I see, are called bishops, holding the honour of the name, not the power.” Since he uses such bitterness of expression against those who were only less diligent or sedulous in their office, what, pray, would he have said if he had seen that very few bishops, if any at all, and scarcely one in a hundred of the other clergy, mounted the pulpit once in their whole lifetime?

He would have been outraged, as any genuine Catholic should be.

For to such a degree of infatuation have men come, that it is thought beneath the episcopal dignity to preach a sermon to the people. In the time of Bernard things had become still worse. Accordingly, we see how bitterly he inveighs against the whole order, and yet there is reason to believe that matters were then in a much better state than now.


Then this state of affairs should be reforming by encouraging pious bishops and bishops who preach, not by abolishing the office altogether, as most Protestants did. True reform is sensible and always helpful and necessary, but revolution is stupid and counter-productive.

13. The supreme Popish administration described. Ridiculous allegation of those so-called ministers of the Church. Answer.

Whoever will duly examine and weigh the whole form of ecclesiastical government as now existing in the Papacy, will find that there is no kind of spoliation in which robbers act more licentiously, without law or measure. Certainly all things are so unlike, nay, so opposed to the institution of Christ, have so degenerated from the ancient customs and practices of the Church, are so repugnant to nature and reason, that a greater injury cannot be done to Christ than to use his name in defending this disorderly rule. We (say they) are the pillars of the Church, the priests of religion, the vicegerents of Christ, the heads of the faithful, because the apostolic authority has come to us by succession. As if they were speaking to stocks, they perpetually plume themselves on these absurdities. Whenever they make such boasts, I, in my turn, will ask, What have they in common with the apostles?

Calvin has not yet offered an argument to overthrow the strong apostolic, patristic, medieval, Catholic belief in apostolic succession. Perhaps he will in due course. Thus far, he has either assumed it to be false, with no argument, or assumed that because some priests are wicked, and invoke apostolic authority, therefore, succession is refuted. Neither recourse carries any logical or persuasive force. It has only polemical, propagandistic "value."

We are not now treating of some hereditary honour which can come to men while they are asleep, but of the office of preaching, which they so greatly shun. In like manner, when we maintain that their kingdom is the tyranny of Antichrist, they immediately object that their venerable hierarchy has often been extolled by great and holy men, as if the holy fathers, when they commended the ecclesiastical hierarchy or spiritual government handed down to them by the apostles, ever dreamed of that shapeless and dreary chaos where bishoprics are held for the most part by ignorant asses, who do not even know the first and ordinary rudiments of the faith, or occasionally by boys who have just left their nurse;

As I've reiterated time and again: corruption doesn't disprove that a thing is what it is: that a Church ceases to be a Church. Calvin runs up against the biblical doctrine of indefectibility again, in asserting such things. And as for young boys running a diocese, Calvin had no problem at all with a nine-year-old king (Edward VI) ascending to the throne of England and assuming the headship of the "church" in that entire country (as we saw in the last installment). So when "abominations" like this serve his ends of so-called "reform" Calvin is all for it, while he mocks boy-bishops in the Catholic Church. A Catholic need not fall into either error. We oppose kings as head of the Church, in any way, shape, or form, no matter how young (or old) they are, and we think boy-bishops are a ridiculous state of affairs as well. But we don't mock one thing as a corruption while praising an even more extreme instance of the same thing to the skies, and pretending that such a boy-king has a special charism of the Holy Spirit, quite like what Calvin would utterly condemn if a Catholic made a similar argument of popes being specially led by the Holy Spirit. One can only stand so much rank hypocrisy.

or if any are more learned (this, however, is a rare case), they regard the episcopal office as nothing else than a title of magnificence and splendour; where the rectors of churches no more think of feeding the flock than a cobbler does of ploughing, where all things are so confounded by a confusion worse than that of Babel, that no genuine trace of paternal government is any longer to be seen.


Nowhere was this more apparent, than in England and Ireland after Henry VIII (yet Calvin loved praising and extolling English kings and Queens). Not only were the poor vastly neglected, because the monasteries that had helped them for centuries, were stolen and given to rich nobles, but many hundreds were murdered simply for being Catholic: often drawn and quartered: one of the most brutal tortures ever devised. For extensive documentation (I've documented 1375 cases), see:


161 English and 269 Irish Catholic Martyrs During the Reign of the Tyrant Henry VIII: 1534-1544 [at the Very Least: 430 Martyrs] (+ Discussion)

312 English Catholic Martyrs and Heroic Confessors During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth ("Bloody Good Queen Bess"): 1558-1603 (+ Discussion)


123 English Catholic Martyrs and Heroic Confessors in the Post-Elizabethan Era: 1603-1729 (+ 66 English Martyrs of Unknown Dates / Martyr Resources)

444 Irish Catholic Martyrs and Heroic Confessors, Persecuted by English Royalty, Anglicans, Cromwellians, Etc.: 1565-1713


14. Their shameful morals. Scarcely one who would not have been excommunicated or deposed by the ancient canons.

But if we descend to conduct, where is that light of the world which Christ requires, where the salt of the earth, where that sanctity which might operate as a perpetual censorship? In the present day, there is no order of men more notorious for luxury, effeminacy, delicacy, and all kinds of licentiousness; in no order are more apt or skilful teachers of imposture, fraud, treachery, and perfidy; nowhere is there more skill or audacity in mischief, to say nothing of ostentation, pride, rapacity, and cruelty. In bearing these the world is so disgusted, that there is no fear lest I seem to exaggerate. One thing I say, which even they themselves will not be able to deny: Among bishops there is scarcely an individual, and among the parochial clergy not one in a hundred, who, if sentence were passed on his conduct according to the ancient canons, would not deserve to be excommunicated, or at least deposed from his office. I seem to say what is almost incredible, so completely has that ancient discipline which enjoined strict censure of the morals of the clergy become obsolete; but such the fact really is. Let those who serve under the banner and auspices of the Romish See now go and boast of their sacerdotal order. It is certain that that which they have is neither from Christ, nor his apostles, nor the fathers, nor the early Church.

Corruption and falling short of the Christian ideal does not prove that the Catholic Church is null and void. All it proves is that there is corruption that needs to be dealt with and reformed, and that sinners need to repent and change their behavior and priorities.

15. No true diaconate existing in the Papacy, though they have still the shadow of it. Corruption of the practice of the primitive Church in regard to deacons.

Let the deacons now come forward and show their most sacred distribution of ecclesiastical goods (see chap. 19 sec. 32). Although their deacons are not at all elected for that purpose, for the only injunction which they lay upon them is to minister at the altar, to read the Gospel, or chant and perform I know not what frivolous acts. Nothing is said of alms, nothing of the care of the poor, nothing at all of the function which they formerly performed. I am speaking of the institution itself; for if we look to what they do, theirs, in fact, is no office, but only a step to the priesthood. In one thing, those who hold the place of deacons in the mass exhibit an empty image of antiquity, for they receive the offerings previous to consecration. Now, the ancient practice was, that before the communion of the Supper the faithful mutually kissed each other, and offered alms at the altar; thus declaring their love, first by symbol, and afterwards by an act of beneficence. The deacon, who was steward of the poor, received what was given that he might distribute it. Now, of these alms no more comes to the poor than if they were cast into the sea. They, therefore, delude the Church by that lying deaconship. Assuredly in this they have nothing resembling the apostolical institution or the ancient practice. The very distribution of goods they have transferred elsewhere, and have so settled it that nothing can be imagined more disorderly. For as robbers, after murdering their victims, divide the plunder, so these men, after extinguishing the light of God’s word, as if they had murdered the Church, have imagined that whatever had been dedicated to pious uses was set down for prey and plunder. Accordingly, they have made a division, each seizing for himself as much as he could.

See my previous comment.

16. Ecclesiastical property, which was formerly administered by true deacons, plundered by bishops and canons, in defraud of the poor.

All those ancient methods which we have explained are not only disturbed but altogether disguised and expunged. The chief part of the plunder has gone to bishops and city presbyters, who, having thus enriched themselves, have been converted into canons. That the partition was a mere scramble is apparent from this, that even to this day they are litigating as to the proportions. Be this as it may, the decision has provided that out of all the goods of the Church not one penny shall go to the poor, to whom at least the half belonged.

Why, then, didn't Calvin condemn it (shortly after this time) when far worse in this respect and others, occurred in merrie olde England? It seems that anything was permissible there simply because it had become (by brute force and torture and murder: not by the will of the people) a Protestant country.

The canons expressly assign a fourth part to them, while the other fourth they destine to the bishops, that they may expend it in hospitality and other offices of kindness. I say nothing as to what
the clergy ought to do with their portion, or the use to which they ought to apply it, for it has been clearly shown that what is set apart for churches, buildings, and other expenditure, ought in necessity to be given to the poor. If they had one spark of the fear of God in their heart, could they, I ask, bear the consciousness that all their food and clothing is the produce of theft, nay, of sacrilege? But as they are little moved by the judgment of God, they should at least reflect that those whom they would persuade that the orders of their Church are so beautiful and well arranged as they are wont to boast, are men endued with sense and reason. Let them briefly answer whether the diaconate is a licence to rob and steal. If they deny this, they will be forced to confess that no diaconate remains among them, since the whole administration of their ecclesiastical resources has been openly converted into sacrilegious depredation.

Then surely Calvin ought to condemn the widespread Protestant plunder and theft of Catholic churches. But he does not do so, as far as I can determine. It seems that he has relative ethics, depending on the religious affiliation of the person committing the outrageous sin.

17. Blasphemous defence of these robbers. Answer. Kings doing homage to Christ. Theodosius. A saying of Ambrose.

But here they use a very fair gloss, for they say that the dignity of the Church is not unbecomingly maintained by this magnificence. And certain of their sect are so impudent as to dare openly to boast that thus only are fulfilled the prophecies, in which the ancient prophets describe the splendour of Christ’s kingdom, where the sacerdotal order is exhibited in royal attire, that it was not without cause that God made the following promises to his Church: “All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (Ps. 72:11). “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Sion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city” (Isa. 52:1). “All they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee” (Isa. 60:6, 7). I fear I should seem childish were I to dwell long in refuting this dishonesty. I am unwilling, therefore, to use words unnecessarily; I ask, however, were any Jew to misapply these passages, what answer would they give? They would rebuke his stupidity in making a carnal and worldly application of things spiritually said of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. For we know that under the image of earthly objects the prophets have delineated to us the heavenly glory which ought to shine in the Church. For in those blessings with these words literally express, the Church never less abounded than under the apostles; and yet all admit that the power of Christ’s kingdom was then most flourishing. What, then, is the meaning of the above passages? That everything which is precious, sublime, and illustrious, ought to be made subject to the Lord. As to its being said expressly of kings, that they will submit to Christ, that they will throw their diadems at his feet, that they will dedicate their resources to the Church, when was this more truly and fully manifested than when Theodosius, having thrown aside the purple and left the insignia of empire, like one of the people humbled himself before God and the Church in solemn repentance? than when he and other like pious princes made it their study and their care to preserve pure doctrine in the Church, to cherish and protect sound teachers? But that priests did not then luxuriate in superfluous wealth is sufficiently declared by this one sentence of the Council of Aquileia, over which Ambrose presided, “Poverty in the priests of the Lord is glorious.” It is certain that the bishops then had some means by which they might have rendered the glory of the Church conspicuous, if they had deemed them the true ornaments of the Church. But knowing that nothing was more adverse to the duty of pastors than to plume themselves on the delicacies of the table, on splendid clothes, numerous attendants, and magnificent places, they cultivated and followed the humility and modesty, nay, the very poverty, which Christ has consecrated among his servants.

There is a place, in balance, for beautiful church buildings, and the biblical doctrine of a holy place suggests also a beautiful place, and that in turn requires some resourecs and funds. If we build splendid cities and live in nice places, God's houses deserve no less, and it is hypocrisy to pursue one and not the the other. Calvin's inconsistency on this score is that he railed againt Catholic monks and religious (as we saw in IV,5:1-10), which is remarkable, because they were the ones who conspicuously upheld his now-extolled ideal of selfless poverty. He wants the ideal, yet he condemns the most obvious Catholic embodiment of it (the religious life). Calvin can't have it both ways. But it comes as no surprise that two contradictory things can exist in his mind, side-by-side. We've seen it again and again.

18. Another defence with regard to the adorning of churches. Answer.

But not to be tedious, let us again briefly sum up and show how far that distribution, or rather squandering, of ecclesiastical goods which now exists differs from the true diaconate, which both the word of God recommends and the ancient Church observed (Book 1 chap. 11. sec. 7, 13; Book 3 chap. 20 sec. 30; supra, chap. 4 sec. 8). I say, that what is employed on the adorning of churches is improperly laid out, if not accompanied with that moderation which the very nature of sacred things prescribes, and which the apostles and other holy fathers prescribed, both by precept and example. But is anything like this seen in churches in the present day? Whatever accords, I do not say with that ancient frugality, but with decent mediocrity, is rejected. Nought pleases but what savours of luxury and the corruption of the times.

Calvin goes way too far with this (as usual). Certainly there were beautiful churches in early medieval times; in the late patristic period: obviously after persecution ceased in the Roman Empire. If he insists on condemning this, let him also condemn earlier magnificant structures, such as the ones, for example, where ecumenical councils were held (such as the one at Nicaea, in 325: see a photograph of it). Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, a huge and spectacular church (the largest in the world for nearly a thousand years), was built between 532 and 537 A.D. It's not as if great church buildings were a product of what Calvin would consider the thoroughly corrupt Catholic Church in thew late Middle Ages, or that such buildings necessarily suggested greed and squandering of funds. In fact, most of the great cathedrals were built by accepting willing contributions of mostly poor parishioners.

If this were so grave an evil, then instead of stealing thousands of churches, as
the early Lutheran and Calvinist and Anglicans did, they would and should have razed them to the ground as inherently idolatrous monstrosities and scandals not befitting the Catholic faith. But of course they didn't. It was far too tempting to steal them for their own use. Martin Luther himself lived in a stolen convent. It saved a lot of time and labor, making new buildings; it was far easier to steal the result of communal Catholic endeavors.

Meanwhile, so far are they from taking due care of living temples, that they would allow thousands of the poor to perish sooner than break down the smallest cup or platter to relieve their necessity.

The Leninist revolutionaries in Russia in 1917 also talked quite a bit about the poor and how oppressed they were. We saw what happened after they came to power. The Protestant "Reformation" often resulted in the same severe drop in living standards for the poor, especially in Germany after the Peasants' Revolt in 1524-1525, and in England, as a result of Henry VIII's oppression and widespread plunder and theft (which also caused a popular revolt to occur, called the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536; Henry simply rounded up the main leaders, made empty promises, and had them all murdered: 216 total victims).

That I may not decide too severely at my own hand, I would only ask the pious reader to consider what Exuperius, the Bishop of Thoulouse, whom we have mentioned, what Acatius, or Ambrose, or any one like minded, if they were to rise from the dead, would say?

They would have been appalled, but so would they have been (even more so) if they could come back fifty years after Calvin wrote (around 1586), and see what Protestantism had caused to happen all over Europe. This is not just an opinion of a Catholic critic of Protestantism, but of the early Protestant leaders themselves. See:

Martin Luther's Regrets as to the Relative Failure of the "Reformation" (Piety, Morals & Inconsistencies Regarding Replacing Bishops With Princes)

Philip Melanchthon's Agony Over the Sectarianism of Early Protestantism / Little-Known Derivation of the Term "Protestant"
Philip Melanchthon in 1530 Longs For the Return of the Jurisdiction of Catholic Bishops / His Agonized Tears Over Protestant Divisions and Dissensions

Certainly, while the necessities of the poor are so great, they would not approve of their funds being carried away from them as superfluous; not to mention that, even were there no poor, the uses to which they are applied are noxious in many respects and useful in none. But I appeal not to men. These goods have been dedicated to Christ, and ought to be distributed at his pleasure. In vain, however, will they make that to be expenditure for Christ which they have squandered contrary to his commands, though, to confess the truth, the ordinary revenue of the Church is not much curtailed by these expenses. No bishoprics are so opulent, no abbacies so productive, in short, no benefices so numerous and ample, as to suffice for the gluttony of priests. But while they would spare themselves, they induce the people by superstition to employ what ought to have been distributed to the poor in building temples, erecting statues, buying plate, and providing costly garments. Thus the daily alms are swallowed up in this abyss.


How naive (or blind) Calvin was, to not see what was already beginning to happen along these lines, in the Protestant Revolution. It's fine to decry existing corruption. But when it is replaced with even greater evils, that is hypocrisy taken to a more absurd and outlandish level indeed.

19. Concluding answer, showing that the diaconate is completely subverted by the Papacy.

Of the revenue which they derive from lands and property, what else can I say than what I have already said, and is manifest before the eyes of all? We see with what kind of fidelity the greatest portion is administered by those who are called bishops and abbots. What madness is it to seek ecclesiastical order here? Is it becoming in those whose life ought to have been a singular example of frugality, modesty, continence, and humility, to rival princes in the number of their attendants, the splendour of their dwellings, the delicacies of dressing and feasting?

Therefore, let's steal all of these buildings, and (in England, which Calvin loved and praised to no end, to give them to rich landowners: the new gentry class). The Church (even in this highly corrupt and decadent period) did a far better job in helping the poor than the secular Protestant princes and other wealthy landowners did. Philip Melanchthon in particular (Luther's successor), and even Luther himself to some extent, could already see this (and lament it) as they were becoming old men. When Calvin had some influence over princes and kings, we don't see him calling for a cessation of the stealing of churches, or particular efforts to help the poor. He talked a good game, but doesnt appear to have done a whit better in practice, than the Catholic Church did.

Can anything be more contrary to the duty of those whom the eternal and inviolable edict of God forbids to long for filthy lucre, and orders to be contented with simple food, not only to lay hands on villages and castles, but also invade the largest provinces, and even seize on empire itself? If they despise the word of God, what answer will they give to the ancient canons of councils, which decree that the bishop shall have a little dwelling not far from the church, a frugal table and furniture? (Conc. Carth. cap. 14, 15). What answer will they give to the declaration of the Council of Aquileia, in which poverty in the priests of the Lord is pronounced glorious? For, the injunction which Jerome gives to Nepotian, to make the poor and strangers acquainted with his table, and have Christ with them as a guest, they would, perhaps, repudiate as too austere. What he immediately adds it would shame them to acknowledge—viz. that the glory of a bishop is to provide for the sustenance of the poor, that the disgrace of all priests is to study their own riches. This they cannot admit without covering themselves with disgrace. But it is unnecessary here to press them so hard, since all we wished was to demonstrate that the legitimate order of deacons has long ago been abolished, and that they can no longer plume themselves on this order in commendation of their Church. This, I think, has been completely established.


These bewailings, which are acceptable in and of themselves, can only take on the hue of bitter irony and hypocrisy, in proportion to how much one knows about the course of 16th century Protestantism, and what it meant to the poorer classes in all of Europe, and how the mostly secular political classes seized upon the new religious movement for their own nefarious ends, to enrich themselves and increase their power. The State Church and caesaropapism and the Divine Right of Kings arose as a result, with dire consequences down the road in history, since "State Churches" tended in many cases (not always) to be the precursors of dictatorships and further oppression.

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