Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,12:14-28) [Fasting / Penance / Lent / Universal Catholic Hypocrisy? / Celibacy of Priests]

Typical Calvinist Iconoclastic Riot and Raping of a Church

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



14. A second part of common discipline relating to fastings, prayer, and other holy exercises. These used by believers under both dispensations. To what purposes applied. Of Fasting.

The remaining part of discipline, which is not, strictly speaking, included in the power of the keys, is when pastors, according to the necessity of the times, exhort the people either to fasting and solemn prayer, or to other exercises of humiliation, repentance, and faith, the time, mode, and form of these not being prescribed by the Word of God, but left to the judgment of the Church. As the observance of this part of discipline is useful, so it was always used in the Church, even from the days of the apostles. Indeed, the apostles themselves were not its first authors, but borrowed the example from the Law and Prophets. For we there see, that as often as any weighty matter occurred the people were assembled, and supplication and fasting appointed. In this, therefore, the apostles followed a course which was not new to the people of God, and which they foresaw would be useful. A similar account is to be given of the other exercises by which the people may either be aroused to duty, or kept in duty and obedience. We everywhere meet with examples in Sacred History, and it is unnecessary to collect them. In general, we must hold that whenever any religious controversy arises, which either a council or ecclesiastical tribunal behoves to decide; whenever a minister is to be chosen; whenever, in short, any matter of difficulty and great importance is under consideration: on the other hand, when manifestations of the divine anger appear, as pestilence, war, and famine, the sacred and salutary custom of all ages has been for pastors to exhort the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayer. Should any one refuse to admit the passages which are adduced from the Old Testament, as being less applicable to the Christian Church, it is clear that the apostles also acted thus; although, in regard to prayer, I scarcely think any one will be found to stir the question. Let us, therefore, make some observations on fasting, since very many, not understanding what utility there can be in it, judge it not to be very necessary, while others reject it altogether as superfluous. Where its use is not well known it is easy to fall into superstition.

Calvin is exactly right. I'm not aware, however, that his present-day followers are particularly known for their observance of fasting. I observe many of them mocking Catholic fasting practices such as abstinence of Fridays and Lent. They should heed Calvin's words.

15. Three ends of fasting. The first refers more especially to private fasting. Second and third ends.

A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him.

How "Catholic"-sounding! Protestants rarely speak in these terms anymore. Much of this understanding has been lost. Calvin has combined the physical and the purely spiritual in a way (akin to the Catholic sacramentals) that many Protestants no longer comprehend.

The first end is not very often regarded in public fasting, because all have not the same bodily constitution, nor the same state of health, and hence it is more applicable to private fasting. The second end is common to both, for this preparation for prayer is requisite for the whole Church, as well as for each individual member. The same thing may be said of the third. For it sometimes happens that God smites a nation with war or pestilence, or some kind of calamity. In this common chastisement it behoves the whole people to plead guilty, and confess their guilt. Should the hand of the Lord strike any one in private, then the same thing is to be done by himself alone, or by his family. The thing, indeed, is properly a feeling of the mind. But when the mind is effected as it ought, it cannot but give vent to itself in external manifestation, especially when it tends to the common edification, that all, by openly confessing their sin, may render praise to the divine justice, and by their example mutually encourage each other.

Much of this thought is similar to Catholic thought on penance and temporal punishment for sins (the same root premises involved in purgatory).

16. Public fasting and prayer appointed by pastors on any great emergency.

Hence fasting, as it is a sign of humiliation, has a more frequent use in public than among private individuals, although as we have said, it is common to both. In regard, then, to the discipline of which we now treat, whenever supplication is to be made to God on any important occasion, it is befitting to appoint a period for fasting and prayer. Thus when the Christians of Antioch laid hands on Barnabas and Paul, that they might the better recommend their ministry, which was of so great importance, they joined fasting and prayer (Acts 13:3). Thus these two apostles afterwards, when they appointed ministers to churches, were wont to use prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). In general, the only object which they had in fasting was to render themselves more alert and disencumbered for prayer.

Again, Calvin sounds remarkably Catholic.

We certainly experience that after a full meal the mind does not so rise toward God as to be borne along by an earnest and fervent longing for prayer, and perseverance in prayer. In this sense is to be understood the saying of Luke concerning Anna, that she “served God with fastings and prayers, night and day” (Luke 2:37). For he does not place the worship of God in fasting, but intimates that in this way the holy woman trained herself to assiduity in prayer. Such was the fast of Nehemiah, when with more intense zeal he prayed to God for the deliverance of his people (Neh. 1:4).


For this reason Paul says, that married believers do well to abstain for a season (1 Cor. 7:5), that they may have greater freedom for prayer and fasting, when by joining prayer to fasting, by way of help, he reminds us it is of no importance in itself, save in so far as it refers to this end.

Here is another notion pretty much lost today in the Protestant world, which has little inkling of marital chastity and the periodic abstention involved in the Catholic practice of Natural Family Planning. Instead, there is the contraceptive mentality of "sex at any time, based on desire." This too often leads to making one's spouse a mere object of manipulation: a means to an end (sexual pleasure). Calvin (himself opposed to contraception as all Protestants were until 1930) had a more biblical, balanced understanding of the place of marital sexuality in the overall spiritual scheme of things.

Again, when in the same place he enjoins spouses to render due benevolence to each other, it is clear that he is not referring to daily prayer, but prayers which require more than ordinary attention.


17. Examples of this under the Law.

On the other hand, when pestilence begins to stalk abroad, or famine or war, or when any other disaster seems to impend over a province and people (Esther 4:16), then also it is the duty of pastors to exhort the Church to fasting, that she may suppliantly deprecate the Lord’s anger.

Imagine that! Something physical that we do can have the effect of affecting God's behavior!

For when he makes danger appear, he declares that he is prepared and in a manner armed for vengeance. In like manner, therefore, as persons accused were anciently wont, in order to excite the commiseration of the judge, to humble themselves suppliantly with long beard,

I knew there must be a reason for Calvin's long ZZ Top beard . . .

dishevelled hair, and coarse garments, so when we are charged before the divine tribunal, to deprecate his severity in humble raiment is equally for his glory and the public edification, and useful and salutary to ourselves.

I find this extraordinary. I can hardly imagine Calvinists acting in this fashion today. Perhaps I've missed it. The "hair shirt" is a stereotypical image used by anti-Catholic Calvinists and other strains of anti-Catholic Protestants to mock Catholic penitential practices, and here is Calvin advocating essentially the same practices.

And that this was common among the Israelites we may infer from the words of Joel. For when he says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly,” &c. (Joel 2:15), he speaks as of things received by common custom. A little before he had said that the people were to be tried for their wickedness, and that the day of judgment was at hand, and he had summoned them as criminals to plead their cause: then he exclaims that they should hasten to sackcloth and ashes, to weeping and fasting; that is, humble themselves before God with external manifestations. The sackcloth and ashes, indeed, were perhaps more suitable for those times, but the assembly, and weeping and fasting, and the like, undoubtedly belong, in an equal degree, to our age, whenever the condition of our affairs so requires.

No Catholic could write a more eloquent rationale for Lent and Ash Wednesday as the beginning of Lent.

For seeing it is a holy exercise both for men to humble themselves, and confess their humility, why should we in similar necessity use this less than did those of old?

Absolutely. Yet many Protestants today denigrate the Old Testament and the Old Covenant as completely antiquated and largely irrelevant to the present "Church Age." Not so, Calvin. He understands (at least in these regards) that the New Testament is a consistent development of the Old Testament. Therefore, we can learn much of relevance to the Christian life, from the older inspired writings. That was certainly the view of our Lord Jesus and the apostles.

We read not only that the Israelitish Church, formed and constituted by the word of God, fasted in token of sadness, but the Ninevites also, whose only teaching had been the preaching of Jonah.

Calling the Old Testament assemblies a "Church" is an example of this developmental view. It may seem anachronistic, but it is not, in light of the principles of doctrinal and spiritual development.

Why, therefore, should not we do the same?

Yes! Why not?

But it is an external ceremony, which, like other ceremonies, terminated in Christ. Nay, in the present day it is an admirable help to believers, as it always was, and a useful admonition to arouse them, lest by too great security and sloth they provoke the Lord more and more when they are chastened by his rod.

Again, a notion of penance and "purgatorial" suffering that is largely foreign to present-day Protestant ears and minds.

Accordingly, when our Saviour excuses his apostles for not fasting, he does not say that fasting was abrogated, but reserves it for calamitous times, and conjoins it with mourning. “The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them” (Mt. 9:35; Luke 5:34).

Exactly. In one place, He says, "when you fast . . ." (Matthew 6:16-18), taking for granted that His followers would do so.

18. Fasting consists chiefly in three things—viz. time, the quality, and sparing use of food.

But that there may be no error in the name, let us define what fasting is; for we do not understand by it simply a restrained and sparing use of food, but something else. The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit, as much as may be, a kind of fasting during the whole course of life.

Yet Catholics are mocked all the time by Protestants who fail to understand this spiritual principle. They regard us as sourpusses who lack the joy of the resurrected, glorified Christ (the antipathy to crucifixes is one aspect of this; they want to move on to the glorified Christ, not the suffering Christ). Obviously, Calvin wouldn't agree that fasting and frugality are things to be despised and discarded, as if they have no place in the Christian life.

But there is another temporary fast, when we retrench somewhat from our accustomed mode of living, either for one day or a certain period, and prescribe to ourselves a stricter and severer restraint in the use of that ordinary food. This consists in three things—viz. the time, the quality of food, and the sparing use of it. By the time I mean, that while fasting we are to perform those actions for the sake of which the fast is instituted. For example, when a man fasts because of solemn prayer, he should engage in it without having taken food. The quality consists in putting all luxury aside, and, being contented with common and meaner food, so as not to excite our palate by dainties. In regard to quantity, we must eat more lightly and sparingly, only for necessity and not for pleasure.

Very Catholic again. This is not how most Protestants think and talk today! Many Catholics, as well, have ceased to grasp these spiritual truths.

19. To prevent superstition, three things to be inculcated. 1. The heart to be rent, not the garments. 2. Fasting not to be regarded as a meritorious work or kind of divine worship. 3. Abstinence must not be immoderately extolled.

But the first thing always to be avoided is, the encroachment of superstition, as formerly happened, to the great injury of the Church. It would have been much better to have had no fasting at all, than have it carefully observed, but at the same time corrupted by false and pernicious opinions, into which the world is ever and anon falling, unless pastors obviate them by the greatest fidelity and prudence.

Unfortunately, now Calvin will move into his more usual Catholic-bashing territory.

The first thing is constantly to urge the injunction of Joel, “Rend your heart, and not your garments” (Joel 2:13); that is, to remind the people that fasting in itself is not of great value in the sight of God, unless accompanied with internal affection of the heart, true dissatisfaction with sin and with one’s self, true humiliation, and true grief, from the fear of God; nay, that fasting is useful for no other reason than because it is added to these as an inferior help.

That is the whole point of it. We agree. No spiritual rituals (penitential or otherwise) are ends in themselves, but means to an end.

There is nothing which God more abominates than when men endeavour to cloak themselves by substituting signs and external appearance for integrity of heart. Accordingly, Isaiah inveighs most bitterly against the hypocrisy of the Jews, in thinking that they had satisfied God when they had merely fasted, whatever might be the impiety and impure thoughts which they cherished in their hearts. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” (Isa. 58:5) See also what follows. The fast of hypocrites is, therefore, not only useless and superfluous fatigue, but the greatest abomination.

Catholics fully agree.

Another evil akin to this, and greatly to be avoided, is, to regard fasting as a meritorious work and species of divine worship.

It is meritorious, but only because God enables it with His grace. Merit is, as St. Augustine said, "God crowning His own gifts." That's how we view it.

For seeing it is a thing which is in itself indifferent, and has no importance except on account of those ends to which it ought to have respect, it is a most pernicious superstition to confound it with the works enjoined by God, and which are necessary in themselves without reference to anything else. Such was anciently the dream of the Manichees, in refuting whom Augustine clearly shows, that fasting is to be estimated entirely by those ends which I have mentioned, and cannot be approved by God, unless in so far as it refers to them.


Another error, not indeed so impious, but perilous, is to exact it with greater strictness and severity as one of the principal duties, and extol it with such extravagant encomiums as to make men imagine that they have done something admirable when they have fasted. In this respect I dare not entirely excuse ancient writers from having sown some seeds of superstition, and given occasion to the tyranny which afterwards arose.

As usual, Calvin offers no particulars when he accuses the fathers of introducing superstition, and asserts Catholic "tyranny."

We sometimes meet with sound and prudent sentiments on fasting, but we also ever and anon meet with extravagant praises, lauding it as one of the cardinal virtues.

This is a subjective judgment. Who is to judge what is "extravagant" and what is not?

20. Owing to an excess of this kind the observance of Lent was established. This superstitious observance refuted by three arguments. It was indeed used by the ancients, but on different grounds.

Then the superstitious observance of Lent had everywhere prevailed: for both the vulgar imagined that they thereby perform some excellent service to God, and pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ; though it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example to others, but, by thus commencing the preaching of the gospel, meant to prove that his doctrine was not of men, but had come from heaven.

Here we have the annoyingly repetitious fallacy often seen in Calvin. He extolls the essence of a thing that is fully Catholic (as we have seen in his treatment of fasting and penitential practices, above). For that, at least, we can be grateful. But then he goes on to denigrate the same thing when Catholics do it, by implying that when they do it, it is thoroughly corrupt and gutted of its essence and spiritual usefulness. In other words, the motives and acts of Catholics always have to be painted in the most unfavorable light. And that is reprehensible, because it is slanderous and the bearing of false witness. He could just as easily have treated true corruptions of individuals when they were found (with documentation), but he usually decided, instead, to engage in demonizing propaganda of the entire group of Catholics.

Everything we do has to be bad. And so we see the same bigoted mentality today. If we dare to disagree with anti-Catholic reasoning on anything whatever, then obviously (so they think) we must be deceiving liars. I've personally been accused of this hundreds of times, and it happened again just last night. No honest disagreement is possible. We have to always be wrong (and culpable for deliberate deception, or paganism, or superstition, etc.) whenever we differ with a Protestant. And people wonder why the 16th century became so bloody and chaotic?

And it is strange how men of acute judgment could fall into this gross delusion, which so many clear reasons refute: for Christ did not fast repeatedly (which he must have done had he meant to lay down a law for an anniversary fast), but once only, when preparing for the promulgation of the gospel.

But He specifically explained why this was. It doesn't support Calvin's argument at all:

Matthew 9:15 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (cf. Mk 2:19-20; Lk 5:34-35)

Nor does he fast after the manner of men, as he would have done had he meant to invite men to imitation; he rather gives an example, by which he may raise all to admire rather than study to imitate him.

Of course He didn't fast, because He was the bridegroom. But after He departed, He said that His disciples would fast. Jesus did, however, observe all the Jewish feasts, and certainly some of them involved fasting.

In short, the nature of his fast is not different from that which Moses observed when he received the law at the hand of the Lord (Exod. 24:18; 34:28). For, seeing that that miracle was performed in Moses to establish the law, it behoved not to be omitted in Christ, lest the gospel should seem inferior to the law. But from that day, it never occurred to any one, under pretence of imitating Moses, to set up a similar form of fast among the Israelites. Nor did any of the holy prophets and fathers follow it, though they had inclination and zeal enough for all pious exercises; for though it is said of Elijah that he passed forty days without meat and drink (1 Kings 19:8), this was merely in order that the people might recognise that he was raised up to maintain the law, from which almost the whole of Israel had revolted. It was therefore merely false zeal, replete with superstition, which set up a fast under the title and pretext of imitating Christ; although there was then a strange diversity in the mode of the fast, as is related by Cassiodorus in the ninth book of the History of Socrates: “The Romans,” says he, “had only three weeks, but their fast was continuous, except on the Lord’s day and the Sabbath. The Greeks and Illyrians had, some six, others seven, but the fast was at intervals. Nor did they differ less in the kind of food: some used only bread and water, others added vegetables; others had no objection to fish and fowls; others made no difference in their food.” Augustine also makes mention of this difference in his latter epistle to Januarius.

This is untrue. Earlier, Calvin asked why Christians shouldn't imitate what was performed in the Old Covenant. There is plenty of indication of communal fasting:

Ezra 8:21,23
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Aha'va, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a straight way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. . . . So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. (cf. 9:5)

Nehemiah 9:1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads.

Esther 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Esther 4:16 Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.

Esther 9:31 that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mor'decai the Jew and Queen Esther enjoined upon the Jews, and as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting.

Jeremiah 36:9 In the fifth year of Jehoi'akim the son of Josi'ah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the LORD.

Joel 1:14 Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. . . . (cf. 2:15)

Zechariah 8:19 Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace. (cf. 7:3,5)

It's not required that we imitate Jesus' fast for forty days in every minute particular, but there are many analogies between His fast and Lent. Why that should be frowned upon by Calvin (except, of course, that it is Catholic, and therefore, wicked by definition) is a mystery.

21. Laws afterwards made to regulate the choice of food. Various abuses even in the time of Jerome. Practically there is no common ecclesiastical discipline in the Papacy.

Worse times followed. To the absurd zeal of the vulgar were added rudeness and ignorance in the bishops, lust of power, and tyrannical rigour.

To a man, of course, Catholics were wicked. Everything is black-and-white for Calvin. There is no subtlety whatever when he judges others.

Impious laws were passed, binding the conscience in deadly chains.

How melodramatic . . . and it is hypocritical when we consider how Calvin ruled over men's consciences in Geneva, with a minute examination of every detail of private life, and the most ridiculous punishments, for things like dancing or chuckling at one of his sermons.

The eating of flesh was forbidden, as if a man were contaminated by it.

No; it was merely a form of fasting (a thing that Calvin praised above).

Sacrilegious opinions were added, one after another, until all became an abyss of error.

100%! Not even 1% was done in purity and heart, for the right reasons. Obviously, then, with such universal folly and evil afoot in Catholic environs, one had to become a Protestant to save themselves from spiritual oblivion. See how propaganda works?

And that no kind of depravity might be omitted, they began,

Exactly . . . gotta be comprehensive in our evil.

under a most absurd pretence of abstinence, to make a mock of God; for in the most exquisite delicacies they seek the praise of fasting: no dainties now suffice; never was there greater abundance or variety or savouriness of food. In this splendid display they think that they serve God. I do not mention that at no time do those who would be thought the holiest of them wallow more foully. In short, the highest worship of God is to abstain from flesh, and, with this reservation, to indulge in delicacies of every kind. On the other hand, it is the greatest impiety, impiety scarcely to be expiated by death, for any one to taste the smallest portion of bacon or rancid flesh with his bread.

Those wicked, hypocritical, Pharisaical Catholics . . .

Jerome, writing to Nepotian, relates, that even in his day there were some who mocked God with such follies:

There are sinners in every age . . . no surprise there.

those who would not even put oil in their food caused the greatest delicacies to be procured from every quarter; nay, that they might do violence to nature, abstained from drinking water, and caused sweet and costly potions to be made for them, which they drank, not out of a cup, but a shell. What was then the fault of a few is now common among all the rich: they do not fast for any other purpose than to feast more richly and luxuriously. But I am unwilling to waste many words on a subject as to which there can be no doubt.

Every good thing can be corrupted and abused. This is self-evident. What is under dispute is the scale and degree of Catholic shortcomings in these matters and whether hypocrisy (however much was truly present) can be a rationale to eliminate biblical, pious practices, rightly understood.

All I say is, that, as well in fasts as in all other parts of discipline, the Papists are so far from having anything right, anything sincere, anything duly framed and ordered, that they have no occasion to plume themselves as if anything was left them that is worthy of praise.

Exactly. This is the bigot's mentality and modus operandi. Everything is painted black. Not one good word can be said about a Catholic, lest the plan of persuading them away from their faith be harmed.

22. The second part of discipline having reference to the clergy. What its nature, and how strict it formerly was. How miserably neglected in the present day. An example which may suit the Papists.

We come now to the second part of discipline, which relates specially to the clergy. It is contained in the canons, which the ancient bishops framed for themselves and their order: for instance, let no clergyman spend his time in hunting, in gaming, or in feasting; let none engage in usury or in trade; let none be present at lascivious dances, and the like. Penalties also were added to give a sanction to the authority of the canons, that none might violate them with impunity. With this view, each bishop was entrusted with the superintendence of his own clergy, that he might govern them according to the canons, and keep them to their duty. For this purpose, certain annual visitations and synods were appointed, that if any one was negligent in his office he might be admonished; if any one sinned, he might be punished according to his fault. The bishops also had their provincial synods once, anciently twice, a-year, by which they were tried, if they had done anything contrary to their duty. For if any bishop had been too harsh or violent with his clergy, there was an appeal to the synod, though only one individual complained. The severest punishment was deposition from office, and exclusion, for a time, from communion. But as this was the uniform arrangement, no synod rose without fixing the time and place of the next meeting. To call a universal council belonged to the emperor alone, as all the ancient summonings testify. As long as this strictness was in force, the clergy demanded no more in word from the people than they performed in act and by example; nay, they were more strict against themselves than the vulgar; and, indeed, it is becoming that the people should be ruled by a kindlier, and, if I may so speak, laxer discipline; that the clergy should be stricter in their censures, and less indulgent to themselves than to others.

Ah, the Golden Age of the Early Church, where everyone and everything was perfect (and folks were supposedly much more like Protestants than Catholics. Calvin never informs us when they Golden Age came to an end, and how and why. He simply assumes that it is no longer present, and that by his time (the era of New Prophets and Wise Oracles like he himself and Luther) everything Catholic is wicked and beyond all hope of reform.

How this whole procedure became obsolete it is needless to relate,

Of course, because that would be too reasonable and factual, and would weaken Calvin's propagandistic aims.

since, in the present day, nothing can be imagined more lawless and dissolute than this order, whose licentiousness is so extreme that the whole world is crying out.

Yes, all that matters is that Calvin can condemn Catholicism in the present; never mind historical trivialities, useless details of how things came to be, the indefectibility of the Church, the promises of God, and other such trifles.

I admit that, in order not to seem to have lost all sight of antiquity, they, by certain shadows, deceive the eyes of the simple; but these no more resemble ancient customs than the mimicry of an ape resembles what men do by reason and counsel.

How eloquent (and absolutely devoid of historical, factual, reasoned argumentation).

There is a memorable passage in Xenophon, in which he mentions, that when the Persians had shamefully degenerated from the customs of their ancestors, and had fallen away from an austere mode of life to luxury and effeminacy, they still, to hide the disgrace, were sedulously observant of ancient rites (Cyrop. Lib. 8).

The same assertion could be turned around and made to stick to the Protestant revolution. In fact, Calvin in this very section implies that his group is following the fathers far more closely than Catholics, yet in truth, much of Catholicism and prior practice has either been redefined by Calvin (along with other Protestants), or discarded from his system, and resembles the ancient Church only to small degree, and far less than the ongoing Catholic Church, that truly developed from same.

For while, in the time of Cyrus, sobriety and temperance so flourished that no Persian required to wipe his nose, and it was even deemed disgraceful to do so, it remained with their posterity, as a point of religion, not to remove the mucus from the nostril, though they were allowed to nourish within, even to putridity, those fetid humours which they had contracted by gluttony. In like manner, according to the ancient custom, it was unlawful to use cups at table; but it was quite tolerable to swallow wine so as to make it necessary to be carried off drunk. It was enjoined to use only one meal a-day: this these good successors did not abrograte, but they continued their surfeit from mid-day to midnight. To finish the day’s march, fasting, as the law enjoined it, was the uniform custom; but in order to avoid lassitude, the allowed and usual custom was to limit the march to two hours. As often as the degenerate Papists obtrude their rules that they may show their resemblance to the holy fathers, this example will serve to expose their ridiculous imitation. Indeed, no painter could paint them more to the life.

Catholics are more like the ancient Persians than their own forefathers in the Christian faith . . . Who could possibly doubt it? At least we are spared yet another analogy to the Pharisees.

23. Of the celibacy of priests, in which Papists place the whole force of ecclesiastical discipline. This impious tyranny refuted from Scripture. An objection of the Papists disposed of.

In one thing they are more than rigid and inexorable—in not permitting priests to marry. It is of no consequence to mention with what impunity whoredom prevails among them, and how, trusting to their vile celibacy, they have become callous to all kinds of iniquity.

Here we go again with the ludicrous generalities. Sure, there was a lot of corruption in that time. But that calls for reform of the thing (the virtue of celibacy), and spiritual revival, not destruction of a practice good in and of itself, and altogether biblical (1 Corinthians 7).

The prohibition, however, clearly shows how pestiferous all traditions are, since this one has not only deprived the Church of fit and honest pastors, but has introduced a fearful sink of iniquity, and plunged many souls into the gulf of despair.

Anyone who is not called to celibacy should avoid it, and get married. Is this not utterly obvious? Priests are not pressed into service at gunpoint, or involuntarily castrated. One wearies of the continual nonsense that is spouted by Protestants in their detestation of a wonderfully pious practice.

Certainly, when marriage was interdicted to priests, it was done with impious tyranny, not only contrary to the word of God, but contrary to all justice.

All institutions in life have requirements. Why should the Catholic Church be any different? It's not required of everyone; only those who wish to be priests, by God's calling.

First, men had no title whatever to forbid what God had left free;

Then why did Calvin rule Geneva with such a dictatorial hand, if he was so intensely concerned with personal freedom?

secondly, it is too clear to make it necessary to give any lengthened proof that God has expressly provided in his Word that this liberty shall not be infringed. I omit Paul’s injunction, in numerous passages, that a bishop be the husband of one wife;

Sure; if a bishop is married at all. He should not be guilty of bigamy or divorce and "remarriage"! That doesn't mean that the Church has no jurisdiction to require celibacy if she so desires.

but what could be stronger than his declaration, that in the latter days there would be impious men “forbidding to marry”? (1 Tim. 4:3)

Catholics do not forbid anyone to marry, strictly speaking. The Church simply says that she (and not even in its entirety, as Eastern Catholics allow married priests) wishes to draw for her priests exclusively from that portion of men who are already called by God to celibacy (1 Cor 7:17), in order to secure an undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32, 35). The Church is not approaching a man who wants to be married and forbidding him to do so (i.e., going against his existing vocation and station in life); rather, she is receiving men who voluntarily follow the divine vocation of celibacy and who are voluntarily following a call by God to be priests. Why this is the least bit controversial has always been a complete puzzle to me. I can only chalk it up to good old prejudice again. It's a way to lie about and bash the Catholic Church, and it is an emotional subject, so it is used for propaganda, with little regard for reason or biblical rationale. It plays well to the crowds. It's demagoguery, pure and simple.

Such persons he calls not only impostors, but devils.

Yes, but Calvin simply assumes this is applying to a practice such as that of the Catholic Church, rather than pseudo-ascetic extreme sects like the Manichees and Gnostics and (later) Albigensians and suchlike. The Catholic Church is following the advice of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. If Calvin doesn't like that, he needs to attack the Apostle Paul directly. That is his burden. Many Protestant commentaries agree with my assessment of 1 Timothy 4:3, over against Calvin's anti-Catholic fantasies:

The ascetic tendencies indicated by these prohibitions developed earlier than these Epistles among the Essenes . . . who repudiated marriage except as a necessity for preserving the race, and allowed it only under protest and under stringent regulations . . . The prohibitions above named were imposed by the later Gnosticism of the second century.

(Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980 [originally 1887], Vol. IV, 245)

See Col. 2:16, 21f., where Paul condemns the ascetic practices of the Gnostics. The Essenes, Therapeutae and other oriental sects forbade marriage. In 1 Cor. 7 Paul does not condemn marriage.

(A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1931, Vol. IV, 578)

The assertions of these verses are significant when studied in relation to the Gnostic and dualistic views that matter is evil and not created by God.

(The Eerdmans Bible Commentary, edited by D. Guthrie et al, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 3rd edition, 1970, 1173)

We have therefore a prophecy, a sacred oracle of the Holy Spirit, intended to warn the Church from the outset against perils, and declaring that the prohibition of marriage is a doctrine of devils.

We agree, and we deny that this applies to the Catholic position. Calvin -- perhaps because of his rush to condemn Catholicism from top to bottom -- doesn't grasp the fundamental distinctions involved.

They think that they get finely off when they wrest this passage, and apply it to Montanus, the Tatians, the Encratites, and other ancient heretics. These (they say) alone condemned marriage; we by no means condemn it, but only deny it to the ecclesiastical order, in whom we think it not befitting.

Much better. This approaches a position of actually understanding that which he opposes.

As if, even granting that this prophecy was primarily fulfilled in those heretics, it is not applicable also to themselves;

But it's not, because our position (rightly understood) is also St. Paul's. If Calvin wants to attack it, he should, to be consistent, go after Paul too. But of course he does not. He'd rather play sophistical games.

or, as if one could listen to the childish quibble that they do not forbid marriage, because they do not forbid it to all. This is just as if a tyrant were to contend that a law is not unjust because its injustice presses only on a part of the state.

I repeat: all institutions impose rules and regulations. All organizations have entrance requirements. It is a part of life and reality. The Catholic Church has a perfect right and liberty under God to have this restriction, based on the teachings of St. Paul. I don't think it is even arguable. This discussion is often conducted on a purely irrational, emotional plane. For those who are interested in a more biblical, reasoned approach, I offer several of my own papers:

24. An argument for the celibacy of priests answered.

They object that there ought to be some distinguishing mark between the clergy and the people; as if the Lord had not provided the ornaments in which priests ought to excel.

St. Paul seemed to think that celibacy was a desired spiritual state, as long as one is called to it. Jesus was single. All of His disciples appear to have been also (Peter seems to have agreed with his wife to separate for the sake of ministry). We treasure celibacy and we treasure marriage (making it a sacrament, whereas Calvin and Luther removed sacramentality from it). This is the biblical, Pauline, both/and. But Calvin has no place for Paul's extolling of celibacy for the sake of greater service to the Lord, in his system. So which outlook is more biblical and well-rounded? Is it not utterly obvious? What would Calvin do with, for example, the following passage from the lips of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?:

Luke 18:28-20 And Peter said, "Lo, we have left our homes and followed you." [29] And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."

Why should we Catholics disagree with Jesus? The Catholic Church is not even requiring this much. She doesn't command a man to leave his wife or children or parents. Rather, she accepts men who have already felt the call or vocation of celibacy. Again, Calvin's beef is with Jesus Himself, Who sanctioned far more of a "deprivation of liberty" or "imprisoning conscience" than the Catholic Church ever supposedly did.

Thus they charge the apostle with having disturbed the ecclesiastical order, and destroyed its ornament, when, in drawing the picture of a perfect bishop, he presumed to set down marriage among the other endowments which he required of them.

At times there have been married bishops, because this is a disciplinary matter, not a dogmatic one. It's neither here nor there.

I am aware of the mode in which they expound this—viz. that no one was to be appointed a bishop who had a second wife. This interpretation, I admit, is not new; but its unsoundness is plain from the immediate context, which prescribes the kind of wives whom bishops and deacons ought to have. Paul enumerates marriage among the qualities of a bishop; those men declare that, in the ecclesiastical order, marriage is an intolerable vice; and, indeed, not content with this general vituperation, they term it, in their canons, the uncleanness and pollution of the flesh (Siric. ad Episc. Hispaniar.).

That goes too far, and is not the Catholic position. We have married priests today in the Eastern Rites, and there have been married bishops in the past. Both/and. But Calvinism and general Protestantism sure don't have much of a tradition of single pastors, do they? They accept one-half of Paul's teaching and not the other, and this is the problem.

Let every one consider with himself from what forge these things have come. Christ deigns so to honour marriage as to make it an image of his sacred union with the Church. What greater eulogy could be pronounced on the dignity of marriage?

None, but it is irrelevant to the point at hand.

How, then, dare they have the effrontery to give the name of unclean and polluted to that which furnishes a bright representation of the spiritual grace of Christ?

The same way that Jesus Himself (along with Paul) does:

Matthew 19:10-12 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." [11] But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. [12] For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
Obviously, then, Calvin and many Protestants are among those who can't "receive" this plain teaching of Jesus. That's not our problem, that they are so unwilling to accept certain parts of inspired divine revelation. We show no such reluctance and lack of faith and trust in God's designs.

25. Another argument answered.

Though their prohibition is thus clearly repugnant to the word of God,

Really? I should think that the truth is clearly quite the opposite, once all the relevant biblical data is examined, and clear thinking brought to bear, rather than irrational emotionalism and a slanderous anti-Catholic motivation.

they, however, find something in the Scriptures to defend it. The Levitical priests, as often as their ministerial course returned, behoved to keep apart from their wives, that they might be pure and immaculate in handling sacred things; and it were therefore very indecorous that our sacred things, which are more noble, and are ministered every day, should be handled by those who are married: as if the evangelical ministry were of the same character as the Levitical priesthood. These, as types, represented Christ, who, as Mediator between God and men, was, by his own spotless purity, to reconcile us to the Father. But as sinners could not in every respect exhibit a type of his holiness, that they might, however, shadow it forth by certain lineaments, they were enjoined to purify themselves beyond the manner of men when they approached the sanctuary, inasmuch as they then properly prefigured Christ appearing in the tabernacle, an image of the heavenly tribunal, as pacificators, to reconcile men to God. As ecclesiastical pastors do not sustain this character in the present day, the comparison is made in vain. Wherefore the apostle declares distinctly, without reservation, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). And the apostles showed, by their own example, that marriage is not unbefitting the holiness of any function, however excellent; for Paul declares, that they not only retained their wives, but led them about with them (1 Cor. 9:5).

Why is 1 Corinthians 7 overlooked throughout the entire section of Calvin's wrongheaded, unbiblical rantings against celibacy? The Levitical priests offer one analogy, but Calvin neglects to see it based on sweeping bigotry: "ecclesiastical pastors do not sustain this character in the present day." This is hardly intellectually impressive.

26. Another argument answered.

Then how great the effrontery when, in holding forth this ornament of chastity as a matter of necessity, they throw the greatest obloquy on the primitive Church, which, while it abounded in admirable divine erudition, excelled more in holiness. For if they pay no regard to the apostles (they are sometimes wont strenuously to contemn them),

Who is not paying attention? Calvin has ignored 1 Corinthians 7, and he has ignored the fact of Paul's and the twelve disciples' celibacy and separation from wives in some cases, for the sake of ministry.

what, I ask, will they make of all the ancient fathers, who, it is certain, not only tolerated marriage in the episcopal order, but also approved it?

Nothing, as it is irrelevant: celibacy being a matter of discipline, not dogma.

They, forsooth, encouraged a foul profanation of sacred things when the mysteries of the Lord were thus irregularly performed by them. In the Council of Nice, indeed, there was some question of proclaiming celibacy: as there are never wanting little men of superstitious minds, who are always devising some novelty as a means of gaining admiration for themselves.

St. Paul's express teachings are superstitious novelties? That is an odd (beyond bizarre) thing for a Protestant to imply.

What was resolved? The opinion of Paphnutius was adopted, who pronounced legitimate conjugal intercourse to be chastity (Hist. Trip. Lib. 2 c. 14). The marriage of priests, therefore, continued sacred, and was neither regarded as a disgrace, nor thought to cast any stain on their ministry.

They were less conformed to the Pauline model in those days, but that doesn't mean the Pauline model cannot be followed should the Church decide to make it normative.

27. An argument drawn from the commendation of virginity as superior to marriage. Answer.

In the times which succeeded, a too superstitious admiration of celibacy prevailed. Hence, ever and anon, unmeasured encomiums were pronounced on virginity, so that it became the vulgar belief that scarcely any virtue was to be compared to it. And although marriage was not condemned as impurity, yet its dignity was lessened, and its sanctity obscured;

No; only from Calvin's dichotomous "either/or" mentality does this follow. Catholics think in "both/and" terms.

so that he who did not refrain from it was deemed not to have a mind strong enough to aspire to perfection.

We can strive for perfection in whatever state of life God has called us to.

Hence those canons which enacted, first, that those who had attained the priesthood should not contract marriage; and, secondly, that none should be admitted to that order but the unmarried, or those who, with the consent of their wives, renounced the marriage-bed.

That is, just as Jesus Himself sanctioned (Luke 18:29).

These enactments, as they seemed to procure reverence for the priesthood, were, I admit, received even in ancient times with great applause. But if my opponents plead antiquity, my first answer is, that both under the apostles, and for several ages after, bishops were at liberty to have wives: that the apostles themselves, and other pastors of primitive authority who succeeded them, had no difficulty in using this liberty, and that the example of the primitive Church ought justly to have more weight than allow us to think that what was then received and used with commendation is either illicit or unbecoming.

Scripture itself: the words of our Lord and the Apostle Paul carry as much weight in the scheme of things as the prevailing practices of the early Church (assuming for the sake of argument that it was as Calvin describes).

My second answer is, that the age, which, from an immoderate affection for virginity, began to be less favourable to marriage, did not bind a law of celibacy on the priests, as if the thing were necessary in itself, but gave a preference to the unmarried over the married.

Hence, the Western, Latin Rites in Catholicism take one path, and the Eastern Rites another. Both/and. But Protestantism mostly teaches Only, only. Celibacy is frowned upon, especially in pastors, and this is an unbiblical, un-Pauline attitude.

My last answer is, that they did not exact this so rigidly as to make continence necessary and compulsory on those who were unfit for it. For while the strictest laws were made against fornication, it was only enacted with regard to those who contracted marriage that they should be superseded in their office.

I'm not sure what Calvin means here.

28. The subject of celibacy concluded. This error not favoured by all ancient writers.

Therefore, as often as the defenders of this new tyranny appeal to antiquity in defence of their celibacy, so often should we call upon them to restore the ancient chastity of their priests, to put away adulterers and whoremongers, not to allow those whom they deny an honourable and chaste use of marriage, to rush with impunity into every kind of lust, to bring back that obsolete discipline by which all licentiousness is restrained, and free the Church from the flagitious turpitude by which it has long been deformed.

All good Christians desire such a reform in the clergy and in all Christians; indeed all men, if it were possible.

When they have conceded this, they will next require to be reminded not to represent as necessary that which, being in itself free, depends on the utility of the Church. I do not, however, speak thus as if I thought that on any condition whatever effect should be given to those canons which lay a bond of celibacy on the ecclesiastical order, but that the better-hearted may understand the effrontery of our enemies in employing the name of antiquity to defame the holy marriage of priests. In regard to the Fathers, whose writings are extant, none of them, when they spoke their own mind, with the exception of Jerome, thus malignantly detracted from the honour of marriage.

That's what I have been contending: Catholics think very highly of marriage!

We will be contented with a single passage from Chrysostom, because he being a special admirer of virginity, cannot be thought to be more lavish than others in praise of matrimony. Chrysostom thus speaks: “The first degree of chastity is pure virginity; the second, faithful marriage. Therefore, a chaste love of matrimony is the second species of virginity” (Chrysost. Hom. de Invent. Crucis.).

Chastity is not confined to the unmarried, because it is ultimately a state of heart and mind.


Pat said...

I enjoy reading your site. I especially like when you review Calvin's institutes. Every time I consider Calvin, I'm reminded of his definition of Sola Scriptura which, it seems to me, creates a "blind spot" that I'm not sure he was even aware of. It is my understanding that Calvin said that SS is as follows, "We believe that Scripture alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgement... IOW, all else can be judged by people, ie, Popes, Councils, Creeds, Confessions and yes Calvin's Institutes. I imagine myself in conversation with Calvin pointing this out to him and stating that his Institutes, while wonderfully stated in many places, are in error in key essential doctrinal matters. In fact his definition is almost the whole of the problem with SS. It is truly a doctrine of men that is literally impossible to put into practice without leading to division and dispute. And, with no method to resolve disputes like in Acts 15 the only option is division over key doctrinal essentials of the faith. It baffles me how protestants can't see this problem. Maybe they just can't afford to see it for fear of where the realization naturally leads.

Dave Armstrong said...

Good comment. Amen, amen. I think your last sentence hits the nail on the head. But it is probably even more so a case of being a fish in water. It doesn't know it is IN the water. That's its whole world and it knows nothing else.

A Protestant who even remotely considers that SS might be false is like the fish looking outside the aquarium: it's just a dream world out there that is incomprehensible to the fish.

The fish would have to become an amphibian and spend some of its time on land to have any chance at all to understand that different world.

We're usually consistent with our presuppositions, even when we are not fully aware of them or not fully aware of the inherent logical and practical problems in our presuppositions.