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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OF THE BEGINNING AND RISE OF THE ROMISH PAPACY, TILL IT ATTAINED A HEIGHT BY WHICH THE LIBERTY OF THE CHURCH WAS DESTROYED, AND ALL TRUE RULE OVERTHROWN.
Column of Phocas: the last monument erected in the Roman forum
14. Third part of the chapter, showing the increase of the power of the Papacy in defining the limits of Metropolitans. This gave rise to the decree of the Council of Turin. This decree haughtily annulled by Innocent.
At that time, as has already been said, the Bishop of Constantinople was disputing with the Bishop of Rome for the primacy. For after the seat of empire was fixed at Constantinople, the majesty of the empire seemed to demand that that church should have the next place of honour to that of Rome. And certainly, at the outset, nothing had tended more to give the primacy to Rome, than that it was then the capital of the empire.
This is the cynical Protestant argument: Rome was only primary by historical happenstance and connection to civil power. Catholics reply that it possessed the primacy over the universal Church because Jesus Christ granted that to St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome (and that St. Paul was martyred there as well). This was all in God's providence: the very opposite of mere happenstance or coincidence.
In Gratian, (Dist. 80), there is a rescript under the name of Pope Lucinus, to the effect that the only way in which the cities where Metropolitans and Primates ought to preside were distinguished, was by means of the civil government which had previously existed. There is a similar rescript under the name of Pope Clement, in which he says, that patriarchs were appointed in those cities which had previously had the first flamens. Although this is absurd, it was borrowed from what was true. For it is certain, that in order to make as little change as possible, provinces were distributed according to the state of matters then existing, and Primates and Metropolitans were placed in those cities which surpassed others in honours and power. Accordingly, it was decreed in the Council of Turin, that the cities of every province which were first in the civil government should be the first sees of bishops.
Obviously, civil capitals and so forth, would tend to have more population, so that they would also tend to be the seat of a bishop, for the same reason. But this doesn't prove that ecclesiastical power was only an offshoot of civil power.
But if it should happen that the honour of civil government was transferred from one city to another, then the right of the metropolis should be at the same time transferred thither. But Innocent, the Roman Pontiff, seeing that the ancient dignity of the city had been decaying ever since the seat of empire had been transferred to Constantinople, and fearing for his see, enacted a contrary law, in which he denies the necessity of changing metropolitan churches as imperial metropolitan cities were changed. But the authority of a synod is justly to be preferred to the opinion of one individual, and Innocent himself should be suspected in his own cause. However this be, he by his caveat shows the original rule to have been, that Metropolitans should be distributed according to the order of the empire.
But like so much involved in this dispute, papal actions can be interpreted differently, according to one's perspective. Catholics contend that Pope Innocent I's actions are yet more proof that this was how the Church was governed. He reigned from 401-417, and his example, as a pope about 30 years before Leo the Great (often hailed -- or scorned as supposedly the "first pope" as we know the office today) demonstrates the consistently developing pattern:
From the beginning of his pontificate, Innocent often acted as head of the whole Church, both East and West.
In his letter to Archbishop Anysius of Thessalonica, in which he informed the latter of his own election to the See of Rome, he also confirmed the privileges which had been bestowed upon the archbishop by previous popes. When Eastern Illyria fell to the Eastern Empire (379) Pope Damasus had asserted and preserved the ancient rights of the papacy in those parts, and his successor Siricius had bestowed on the Archbishop of Thessalonica the privilege of confirming and consecrating the bishops of Eastern Illyria. These prerogatives were renewed by Innocent (Ep. i), and by a later letter (Ep. xiii, 17 June, 412) the pope entrusted the supreme administration of the dioceses of Eastern Illyria to Archbishop Rufus of Thessalonica, as representative of the Holy See. By this means the papal vicariate of Illyria was put on a sound basis, and the archbishops of Thessalonica became vicars of the popes. On 15 Feb., 404, Innocent sent an important decretal to Bishop Victricius of Rouen (Ep. ii), who had laid before the pope a list of disciplinary matters for decision. The points at issue concerned the consecration of bishops, admissions into the ranks of the clergy, the disputes of clerics, whereby important matters (majores) were to be brought from the episcopal tribunal to the Apostolic See, also the ordinations of the clergy, celibacy, the reception of converted Novatians or Donatists into the Church, monks, and nuns. In general, the pope indicated the discipline of the Roman Church as being the norm for the other bishops to follow. Innocent directed a similar decretal to the Spanish bishops (Ep. iii) among whom difficulties had arisen, especially regarding the Priscillianist bishops. The pope regulated this matter and at the same time settled other questions of ecclesiastical discipline.
Similar letters, disciplinary in content, or decisions of important cases, were sent to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse (Ep. vi), to the bishops of Macedonia (Ep. xvii), to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio (Ep. xxv), to Felix, Bishop of Nocera (Ep. xxxviii). Innocent also addressed shorter letters to several other bishops, among them a letter to two British bishops, Maximus and Severus, in which he decided that those priests who, while priests, had begotten children should be dismissed from their sacred office (Ep. xxxix). Envoys were sent by the Synod of Carthage (404) to the Bishop of Rome, or the bishop of the city where the emperor was staying, in order to provide for severer treatment of the Montanists. The envoys came to Rome, and Pope Innocent obtained from the Emperor Honorius a strong decree against those African sectaries, by which many adherents of Montanism were induced to be reconciled with the Church. The Christian East also claimed a share of the pope's energy. St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, who was persecuted by the Empress Eudoxia and the Alexandrian patriarch Theophilus, threw himself on the protection of Innocent. Theophilus had already informed the latter of the deposition of John, following on the illegal Synod of the Oak (ad quercum). But the pope did not recognize the sentence of the synod, summoned Theophilus to a new synod at Rome, consoled the exiled Patriarch of Byzantium, and wrote a letter to the clergy and people of Constantinople in which he animadverted severely on their conduct towards their bishop (John), and announced his intention of calling a general synod, at which the matter would be sifted and decided. Thessalonica was suggested as the place of assembly. The pope informed Honorius, Emperor of the West, of these proceedings, whereupon the latter wrote three letters to his brother, the Eastern Emperor Arcadius, and besought Arcadius to summon the Eastern bishops to a synod at Thessalonica, before which the Patriarch Theophilus was to appear. The messengers who brought these three letters were ill received, Arcadius being quite favourable to Theophilus. In spite of the efforts of the pope and the Western emperor, the synod never took place. Innocent remained in correspondence with the exiled John; when, from his place of banishment the latter thanked him for his kind solicitude, the pope answered with another comforting letter, which the exiled bishop received only a short time before his death (407) (Epp. xi, xii). The pope did not recognize Arsacius and Atticus, who had been raised to the See of Constantinople instead of the unlawfully deposed John.
After John's death, Innocent desired that the name of the deceased patriarch should be restored to the diptychs, but it was not until after Theophilus was dead (412) that Atticus yielded. The pope obtained from many other Eastern bishops a similar recognition of the wrong done to St. John Chrysostom. The schism at Antioch, dating from the Arian conflicts, was finally settled in Innocent's time. Alexander, Patriarch of Antioch, succeeded, about 413-15, in gaining over to his cause the adherents of the former Bishop Eustathius; he also received into the ranks of his clergy the followers of Paulinus, who had fled to Italy and had been ordained there. Innocent informed Alexander of these proceedings, and as Alexander restored the name of John Chrysostom to the diptychs, the pope entered into communion with the Antiochene patriarch, and wrote him two letters, one in the name of a Roman synod of twenty Italian bishops, and one in his own name (Epp. xix and xx). Acacius, Bishop of Beroea, one of the most zealous opponents of Chrysostom, had sought to obtain re-admittance to communion with the Roman Church through the aforesaid Alexander of Antioch. The pope informed him, though Alexander, of the conditions under which he would resume communion with him (Ep. xxi). In a later letter Innocent decided several questions of church discipline (Ep. xxiv).
The pope also informed the Macedonian bishop Maximian and the priest Bonifatius, who had interceded with him for the recognition of Atticus, Patriarch of Constantinople, of the conditions, which were similar to those required of the above-mentioned Patriarch of Antioch (Epp. xxii and xxiii). In the Origenist and Pelagian controversies, also, the pope's authority was invoked from several quarters. St. Jerome and the nuns of Bethlehem were attacked in their convents by brutal followers of Pelagius, a deacon was killed, and a part of the buildings was set on fire. John, Bishop of Jerusalem, who was on bad terms with Jerome, owing to the Origenist controversy, did nothing to prevent these outrages. Through Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage, Innocent sent St. Jerome a letter of condolence, in which he informed him that he would employ the influence of the Holy See to repress such crimes; and if Jerome would give the names of the guilty ones, he would proceed further in the matter. The pope at once wrote an earnest letter of exhortation to the Bishop of Jerusalem, and reproached him with negligence of his pastoral duty. The pope was also compelled to take part in the Pelagian controversy. In 415, on the proposal of Orosius, the Synod of Jerusalem brought the matter of the orthodoxy of Pelagius before the Holy See. The synod of Eastern bishops held at Diospolis (Dec., 415), which had been deceived by Pelagius with regard to his actual teaching and had acquitted him, approached Innocent on behalf of the heretic. On the report of Orosius concerning the proceedings at Diospolis, the African bishops assembled in synod at Carthage, in 416, and confirmed the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Caelestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. The bishops of Numidia did likewise in the same year in the Synod of Mileve. Both synods reported their transactions to the pope and asked him to confirm their decisions. Soon after this, five African bishops, among them St. Augustine, wrote a personal letter to Innocent regarding their own position in the matter of Pelagianism. Innocent in his reply praised the African bishops, because, mindful of the authority of the Apostolic See, they had appealed to the Chair of Peter; he rejected the teachings of Pelagius and confirmed the decisions drawn up by the African Synods (Epp. xxvii-xxxiii). The decisions of the Synod of Diospolis were rejected by the pope. Pelagius now sent a confession of faith to Innocent, which, however, was only delivered to his successor, for Innocent died before the document reached the Holy See.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia: "Pope Innocent I")
15. Hence the great struggle for precedency between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople. The pride and ambition of the Roman Bishops unfolded.
Agreeably to this ancient custom, the first Council of Constantinople decreed that the bishop of that city should take precedence after the Roman Pontiff, because it was a new Rome. But long after, when a similar decree was made at Chalcedon, Leo keenly protested (Socrat. Hist. Trop. Lib. 9 cap. 13).
Yes, of course, because Constantinople was not an apostolic see (which even Antioch was). It was built by the Emperor Constantine, from 324 to 330. Calvin is impressed by its claims because he always wants to tie church power with civil power (just as he did in his own Geneva). Thus, he thinks Rome is merely self-interested in opposing the rise of Constantinople in ecclesiastical hierarchy. But Rome was, as always, following apostolic precedent, the biblical Petrine data, and the history of the Church back to the apostles: rather than being dazzled by imperial riches and power.
And not only did he permit himself to set at nought what six hundred bishops or more had decreed,
Some of it (not much at all), yes, because it was the jurisdiction of the popes to have the authority to nullify conciliar decrees.
but he even assailed them with bitter reproaches, because they had derogated from other sees in the honour which they had presumed to confer on the Church of Constantinople (in Decr. 22, Distinct. cap. Constantinop.). What, pray, could have incited the man to trouble the world for so small an affair but mere ambition?
Historical precedent; apostolic tradition! Note how Calvin blithely assumes that it could only have been self-interest and "ambition" that would have motivated Pope St. Leo the Great.
He says, that what the Council of Nice had once sanctioned ought to have been inviolable; as if the Christian faith was in any danger if one church was preferred to another; or as if separate Patriarchates had been established on any other grounds than that of policy.
In a rule of faith that includes ecumenical councils, the precedent set by them is observed. It is believed (following the model of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15) that they are led by the Holy Spirit, and infallible in what they decree regarding faith and morals, in harmony with the pope's opinions as the supreme head of the Catholic Church. Once all that is spurned and rejected, as it was by Luther and Calvin, then of course, precedent is scorned as of no binding force. Every man is (ultimately) on his own and can reject even ecumenical councils and popes' decisions.
But we know that policy varies with times, nay, demands various changes.
Practical policies or practices can change, but the status of Rome as the preeminent Apostolic See does not change with the whim and fancy of the times. That was Leo's point.
It is therefore futile in Leo to pretend that the See of Constantinople ought not to receive the honour which was given to that of Alexandria, by the authority of the Council of Nice.
He gave it a measure of honor, but pointed out the patently obvious fact that it was not apostolic, and thus not in any way the equal of Rome.
For it is the dictate of common sense, that the decree was one of those which might be abrogated, in respect of a change of times.
This is the problem here; Calvin regards such an important matter as merely an outcome of the fads and fancies of the changing times. That was the model in the "Reformation" too. It was a revolution. Tradition was cast to the wind with nary a thought, as long as it went against some desire of the Protestant revolutionaries.
What shall we say to the fact, that none of the Eastern churches, though chiefly interested, objected? Proterius, who had been appointed at Alexandria instead of Dioscorus, was certainly present; other patriarchs whose honour was impaired were present. It belonged to them to interfere, not to Leo, whose station remained entire. While all of them are silent, many assent, and the Roman Bishop alone resists,
He has the unique authority to do so! Why this is some novelty to Calvin is the inexplicable thing. What he sees as an outrageous innovation was the norm long since.
it is easy to judge what it is that moves him; just because he foresaw what happened not long after, that when the glory of ancient Rome declined, Constantinople, not contented with the second place, would dispute the primacy with her. And yet his clamour was not so successful as to prevent the decree of the council from being ratified. Accordingly, his successors seeing themselves defeated, quietly desisted from that petulance, and allowed the Bishop of Constantinople to be regarded as the second Patriarch.
Calvin can only view routine papal authority as "petulance." The office has to somehow be denigrated, since it is rejected by Protestants. That was behind all the rhetoric of "pope as the Antichrist" and so forth.
16. Many attempts of the Bishop of Constantinople to deprive the Bishop of Rome of the primacy.
But shortly after, John, who, in the time of Gregory, presided over the church of Constantinople, went so far as to say that he was universal Patriarch. Here Gregory, that he might not be wanting to his See in a most excellent cause, constantly opposed. And certainly it was impossible to tolerate the pride and madness of John, who wished to make the limits of his bishopric equal to the limits of the empire. This, which Gregory denies to another, he claims not for himself, but abominates the title by whomsoever used, as wicked, impious, and nefarious.
Yes; rightly understood, Gregory was objecting to the notion that one universal bishop would override the local jurisdiction of all other bishops. He wasn't denying that the bishop of Rome was preeminent, as has been shown already, with abundant proofs.
Nay, he is offended with Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, who had honoured him with this title, “See (says he, Lib. 8 Ep. 30) in the address of the letter which you have directed to me, though I prohibited you, you have taken care to write a word of proud signification by calling me Universal Pope. What I ask is, that your holiness do not go farther, because, whatever is given to another more than reason demands is withdrawn from you. I do not regard that as honour by which I see that the honour of my brethren is diminished. For my honour is the universal honour of the Church, and entire prerogative of my brethren. If your holiness calls me universal Pope, it denies itself to be this whole which it acknowledges me to be.” The cause of Gregory was indeed good and honourable; but John, aided by the favour of the Emperor Maurice, could not be dissuaded from his purpose. Cyriac also, his successor, never allowed himself to be spoken to on the subject.
As usual, Calvin presents an entirely one-sided case. We have already provided the details that he woefully and shamefully neglected.
17. Phocas murders the Emperor, and gives Rome the primacy.
At length Phocas, who had slain Maurice, and usurped his place (more friendly to the Romans, for what reason I know not, or rather because he had been crowned king there without opposition), conceded to Boniface III what Gregory by no means demanded—viz. that Rome should be the head of all the churches. In this way the controversy was ended. And yet this kindness of the Emperor to the Romans would not have been of very much avail had not other circumstances occurred. For shortly after Greece and all Asia were cut off from his communion, while all the reverence which he received from France was obedience only in so far as she pleased.
Gregory the Great knew little of Phocas when he ascended to the throne of emperor by murder; he had killed Maurice, his wife, and several children. Catholic historian Warren Carroll writes of him:
He was an alcoholic rapist, with no more administrative talent than moral virtue. Pope Gregory, who had no representative in Constantinople at this time due to his bad relations with Maurice and apparently assumed that any change must be for the better, wrote Phocas a fulsome letter of congratulation; but his usual astuteness for once had failed him, for Phocas was a disastrous failure as emperor. During the eight years of his reign [602-610] the Byzantine empire reached its lowest ebb . . .She was brought into subjection for the first time when Pepin got possession of the throne. For Zachary, the Roman Pontiff, having aided him in his perfidy and robbery when he expelled the lawful sovereign, and seized upon the kingdom, which lay exposed as a kind of prey, was rewarded by having the jurisdiction of the Roman See established over the churches of France.
Phocas gave Boniface III a formal recognition of Petrine primacy, but there is not the slightest evidence that he intended to heed Papal or any other moral guidance, or cared anything for the Church.
(The Building of Christendom, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom College Press, 1987, 202)
So Calvin thinks that the churches of France were not under the jurisdiction of Rome until the eighth century? As for his hostile take on Pope Zachary (r. 741-752) and Pepin (714-768): Calvin gives no evidence, and hence, no reason for the reader to accept his cynical claim. Apparently, Calvin concludes "perfidy and robbery" based on the following exchange between Pepin and Pope Zachary:
"Is it wise to have kings who hold no power of control?" The Pope answered: "It is better to have a king able to govern. By apostolic authority I bid that you be crowned King of the Franks."In the same way as robbers are wont to divide and share the common spoil, those two worthies arranged that Pepin should have the worldly and civil power by spoiling the true prince, while Zachary should become the head of all the bishops, and have the spiritual power. This, though weak at the first (as usually happens with new power), was afterwards confirmed by the authority of Charlemagne for a very similar cause. For he too was under obligation to the Roman Pontiff, to whose zeal he was indebted for the honour of empire.
(Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985, "Pepin III," Vol. IX, p. 272)
The previous king, Childeric III, was a powerless puppet. Even granting that the power-play ousting him from office was improper and unethical, it is scarcely different from what happened in Calvin's own Geneva:
Prior to the sixteenth century, the government of Geneva was vested in its bishop, who was its lord or dominus; in the Duke of Savoy, . . . and in a burgher administration . . . The bishopric, however, after the mid-fifteenth century was little more than an appendage of the house of Savoy, and its incumbents were the creatures and cadets of that princely house . . .The Genevan bishops were also apparently puppet rulers. Calvin thought it was fine and dandy to expel the entire office from Geneva (not just one particular adherent). Yet when Pepin replaced a puppet king in France, with the pope's help, Calvin describes this as "perfidy and robbery" and "the same way as robbers are wont to divide and share the common spoil" and "spoiling the true prince." How is that essentially different from what went on in Geneva, within the previous two years of Calvin's first edition of the Institutes? The difference is that one scenario involves Catholics and a pope, whereas the other was at the instigation of the glorious "Reformation." Therefore, for Calvin and many of his followers today, the latter is right and the former wrong (pretty much on that basis alone) and to be described in the negative fashion above. I trust that the fair reader will see the glaring double standard, as I do.
In May, 1534, Freiburg, which remained Catholic, severed her alliance with Geneva, and in July the Bishop, in league with the Duke, launched an unsuccessful attack on the city. The political conflict now merged more distinctly with the religious quarrel. Following the Bishop's defeat the Genevan authorities declared the episcopal see "vacated," and the Protestants, still a minority, became more active in their campaign against Catholic faith and practice.
(A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto's Letter to the Genevans and Calvin's Reply, edited by John C. Olin, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966, 13-14)
After the bishop was deposed for good, the Protestant revolutionary "reformers" proceeded in their usual unsavory fashion:
. . . an outbreak of image-smashing, gaining the pulipt of the cethedral, and persuading the Council of two Hundred to suppress the Mass.Calvin, famously (or infamously) replying to Cardinal Sadoleto in August 1539, didn't miss a beat in arbitrarily proclaiming himself in effect the bishop of Geneva:
(Olin, ibid., 14)
For though I am for the present relieved of the charge of the Church of Geneva, that circumstance ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection -- God, when He gave it to me in charge, having bound me to be faithful to it for ever. . . . assuredly I cannot cast off that charge anymore than that of my own soul.So the Catholic bishop of Geneva can be booted out by military force and decree, and the Catholic cathedral stolen, and its statues and other images smashed, and the Mass suppressed against the will of many citizens, and that is all legitimate, while Calvin can claim an eternal charge of the local church, based on God Himself having given it to him. And Calvin wants to pontificate on how Pepin became king of France? The audacity and unmitigated gall of early Protestant leaders never ceases to amaze one.
(Olin, ibid., 51)
Calvin assails in the same letter not only the office of the papacy, but pretty much all Catholic bishops:
We indeed, Sadoleto, deny not that those over which you preside are Churches of Christ, but we maintain that the Roman Pontiff, with his whole herd of pseudo-bishops, who have seized upon the pastor's office, are ravening wolves, whose only study has hitherto been to scatter and trample upon the kingdom of Christ, filling it with ruin and devastation.Since Calvin can appeal to no precedent for the abolition of bishops and priests and pope alike, he appeals (after comparing his cause with that of the prophets of old) to his own subjective conscience:
(Olin, ibid., 75)
Though denounced as a deserter of the Church, and threatened, I was in no respect deterred, or induced to proceed less firmly and boldly in opposing those who, in the character of pastors, wasted thy Church with a more than impious tyranny. My conscience told me how strong the zeal was with which I burned for the unity of thy Church, provided thy truth were made the bond of concord. As the commotions which followed were not excited by me, so there is no ground for imputing them to me.And all this self-important tomfoolery is less objectionable than one instance of replacing a puppet king with a man of action and principle?
(Olin, ibid., 86)
Though there is reason to believe that the churches had previously been greatly altered, it is certain that the ancient form of the Church was then only completely effaced in Gaul and Germany. There are still extant among the archives of the Parliament of Paris short commentaries on those times, which, in treating of ecclesiastical affairs, make mention of the compacts both of Pepin and Charlemagne with the Roman Pontiff. Hence we may infer that the ancient state of matters was then changed.
If Calvin wants to make this claim, then let him prove it and bring some documentation to the table. Who has time to contend with phantom facts and empty "arguments": mere bare assertions?