Monday, December 21, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,19:14-21) [Sacraments of Penance and Anointing / Calvin's Anti-Supernaturalism and Lack of Faith]

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.

* * * * *

Book IV




14. Of Penitence. Confused and absurd language of the Popish doctors. Imposition of hands in ancient times. This made by the Papists a kind of foundation of the sacrament of Penance.

The next place they give to Penitence, of which they discourse so confusedly and unmethodically, that consciences cannot derive anything certain or solid from their doctrine. In another place (Book 3 chap. 3 and 4), we have explained at length, first, what the Scriptures teach concerning repentance, and, secondly, what these men teach concerning it. All we have now to advert to is the grounds of that opinion of it as a sacrament which has long prevailed in schools and churches. First, however, I will speak briefly of the rite of the early Church, which those men have used as a pretext for establishing their fiction.

We shall see what is the true "fiction" -- in light of the Bible and the early Church.

By the order observed in public repentance, those who had performed the satisfactions imposed upon them were reconciled by the formal laying on of hands. This was the symbol of absolution by which the sinner himself regained his confidence of pardon before God, and the Church was admonished to lay aside the remembrance of the offence, and kindly receive him into favour. This Cyprian often terms to give peace. In order that the act might have more weight and estimation with the people, it was appointed that the authority of the bishop should always be interposed. Hence the decree of the second Council of Carthage, “No presbyter may publicly at mass reconcile a penitent;” and another, of the Council of Arausica, “Let those who are departing this life, at the time of penitence, be admitted to communion without the reconciliatory laying on of hands; if they recover from the disease, let them stand in the order of penitents, and after they have fulfilled their time, receive the reconciliatory laying on of hands from the bishop.” Again, in the third Council of Carthage, “A presbyter may not reconcile a penitent without the authority of the bishop.” The object of all these enactments was to prevent the strictness, which they wished to be observed in that matter, from being lost by excessive laxity. Accordingly, they wished cognisance to be taken by the bishop, who, it was probable, would be more circumspect in examining. Although Cyprian somewhere says that not the bishop only laid hands, but also the whole clergy. For he thus speaks, “They do penitence for a proper time; next they come to communion, and receive the right of communion by the laying on of the hands of the bishop and clergy” (Lib. 3 Ep 14). Afterwards, in process of time, the matter came to this, that they used the ceremony in private absolutions also without public penitence. Hence the distinction in Gratian (Decret. 26, Quæst. 6) between public and private reconciliation. I consider that ancient observance of which Cyprian speaks to have been holy and salutary to the Church, and I could wish it restored in the present day. The more modern form, though I dare not disapprove, or at least strongly condemn, I deem to be less necessary.

Why? We can be thankful, however, that Calvin retains some remote notion of formal penance and absolution.

Be this as it may, we see that the laying on of hands in penitence was a ceremony ordained by men, not by God, and is to be ranked among indifferent things, and external exercises, which indeed are not to be despised, but occupy an inferior place to those which have been recommended to us by the word of the Lord.

The aspect of laying on of hands is not essential to the sacrament. Apparently (if we take Calvin's word) this was a practice in the early Church: making penance outwardly similar to confirmation. Be that as it may, there is indeed scriptural warrant for forgiveness of sins being associated with laying on of hands: at least insofar as anointing takes place (the same biblical proof that the Catholic produces regarding the sacrament of anointing):

James 5:14-15 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Also, indirectly, Ananias laying his hands on St. Paul could be interpreted as Paul being forgiven for his sins of persecuting Christians, as well as receiving the Holy Spirit:

Acts 9:10-17 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani'as. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Anani'as." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." [11] And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, [12] and he has seen a man named Anani'as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." [13] But Anani'as answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; [14] and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name." [15] But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; [16] for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." [17] So Anani'as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Baptism is another instance of the "touch -- forgiveness" dynamic. The person is anointed and touched by the baptismal waters and forgiveness and regeneration take place. Moreover, as a non-sacramental but analogous example of touch being associated with forgiveness, we have the father of the prodigal son (15:20: "embraced"):

Luke 15:18-24 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' [20] And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' [22] But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; [23] and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; [24] for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

15. Disagreement among Papists themselves, as to the grounds on which penance is regarded as a sacrament.

The Romanists and Schoolmen, whose wont it is to corrupt all things by erroneous interpretation,

How charitable . . .

anxiously labour to find a sacrament here, and it cannot seem wonderful, for they seek a thing where it is not. At best, they leave the matter involved, undecided, uncertain, confused, and confounded by the variety of opinions. Accordingly, they say (Sent. Lib. 4 Dist. 22, cap. 3), either that external penitence is a sacrament, and, if so, ought to be regarded as a sign of internal penitence; i. e., contrition of heart, which will be the matter of the sacrament, or that both together make a sacrament, not two, but one complete; but that the external is the sacrament merely, the internal, the matter, and the sacrament, whereas the forgiveness of sins is the matter only, and not the sacrament. Let those who remember the definition of a sacrament, which we have given above, test by it that which they say is a sacrament, and it will be found that it is not an external ceremony appointed by God for the confirmation of our faith. But if they allege that my definition is not a law which they are necessarily bound to obey, let them hear Augustine, whom they pretend to regard as a saint. “Visible sacraments were instituted for the sake of carnal men, that by the ladder of sacraments they may be conveyed from those things which are seen by the eye, to those which are perceived by the understanding” (August. Quæst. Vet. Test. Lib. 3). Do they themselves see, or can they show to others, anything like this in that which they call the sacrament of penance? In another passage, he says, “It is called a sacrament, because in it one thing is seen, another thing is understood. What is seen has bodily appearance, what is understood has spiritual fruit” (Serm. de Bapt. Infant). These things in no way apply to the sacrament of penance, as they feign it; there, there is no bodily form to represent spiritual fruit.

Whether he classifies it as a sacrament or not, St. Augustine accepts the entire notion of repentance, confession, absolution, and penance, as has already been shown, and has in more depth elsewhere. Sacraments, like Church offices, were more fluid in the early Church, and we can and should expect them to have taken a while to develop and crystallize. But if the essential teaching is present, that is sufficient. The Church has the power to forgive sins. That is established on direct biblical authority.

16. More plausibility in calling the absolution of the priest, than in calling penance a sacrament.

And (to despatch these beasts in their own arena) if any sacrament is sought here, would it not have been much more plausible to maintain that the absolution of the priest is a sacrament, than penitence either external or internal?

Indeed, we deem that as part of the sacrament, in terms of the process of it.

For it might obviously have been said that it is a ceremony to confirm our faith in the forgiveness of sins, and that it has the promise of the keys, as they describe them: “Whatsoever ye shall bind or loose on earth, shall be bound or loosed in heaven.” But some one will object that to most of those who are absolved by priests nothing of the kind is given by the absolution, whereas, according to their dogma, the sacraments of the new dispensation ought to effect what they figure. This is ridiculous. As in the eucharist, they make out a twofold eating—a sacramental, which is common to the good and bad alike, and a spiritual, which is proper only to the good; why should they not also pretend that absolution is given in two ways? And yet I have never been able to understand what they meant by their dogma. How much it is at variance with the truth of God, we showed when we formally discussed that subject.

Fine; let's take a brief look at that, to see what arguments were made:

When they contend that judgment cannot be given unless the case is known, the answer is easy, that they usurp the right of judging, being only self-created judges. And it is strange, how confidently they lay down principles, which no man of sound mind will admit. They give out, that the office of binding and loosing has been committed to them, as a kind of jurisdiction annexed to the right of inquiry. That the jurisdiction was unknown to the Apostles their whole doctrine proclaims. Nor does it belong to the priest to know for certainty whether or not a sinner is loosed, but to Him from whom acquittal is asked; since he who only hears can ever know whether or not the enumeration is full and complete. Thus there would be no absolution, without restricting it to the words of him who is to be judged. We may add, that the whole system of loosing depends on faith and repentance, two things which no man can know of another, so as to pronounce sentence. It follows, therefore, that the certainty of binding and loosing is not subjected to the will of an earthly judge, because the minister of the word, when he duly executes his office, can only acquit conditionally, when, for the sake of the sinner, he repeats the words, “Whose soever sins ye remit;” lest he should doubt of the pardon, which, by the command and voice of God, is promised to be ratified in heaven.

(Inst., III, 4:18)

The basic rationale for absolution are the following passages:

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:21-23
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Calvin basically rationalizes these by saying that all is occurring is a ratification of what has already taken place in heaven. He always seems to have to gut an act of its essence and power and make it merely symbolic. He also argues that since human beings cannot know the hearty of another person (whether he has truly repented); therefore they cannot absolve what is not known for certain. Calvin goes on:

But in pretending that he who has already obtained pardon before God is acquitted in the face of the Church, they unseasonably apply to the special use of every individual, that which we have already said was designed for common discipline when the offense of a more heinous and notorious transgression was to be removed. Shortly after they pervert and destroy their previous moderation, by adding that there is another mode of remission, namely, by the infliction of penalty and satisfaction, in which they arrogate to their priests the right of dividing what God has every where promised to us entire. While He simply requires repentance and faith, their division or exception is altogether blasphemous. For it is just as if the priest, assuming the office of tribune, were to interfere with God, and try to prevent him from admitting to his favor by his mere liberality any one who had not previously lain prostrate at the tribunicial bench, and there been punished.

(Inst., III, 4:23)

So, let us review the heart of what Calvin is saying:

Nor does it belong to the priest to know for certainty whether or not a sinner is loosed, . . . the certainty of binding and loosing is not subjected to the will of an earthly judge, . . .

. . . they pervert and destroy their previous moderation, by adding that there is another mode of remission, namely, by the infliction of penalty and satisfaction, in which they arrogate to their priests the right of dividing what God has every where promised to us entire. While He simply requires repentance and faith, their division or exception is altogether blasphemous. For it is just as if the priest, assuming the office of tribune, were to interfere with God, . . .

It would be very odd and strange -- granting that Calvin is correct for a moment -- that St. Paul himself has no inkling at all of such a teaching, and contradicts it at every turn. Calvin says only God can bind and loose with certainty. But Paul does it himself with a great deal of authority and seeming certainty. Calvin says that priests cannot declare penalties and satisfaction, but Paul does both. Why? Is he so much dumber than Calvin, that he doesn't comprehend, as he states below, "a matter so plain and obvious to every man"? For St. Paul issued a binding decree of penance:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Later, he issued a loosing decree, or virtually what is now known as an "indulgence" (relaxation or abolition of temporal penalty for sin):

2 Corinthians 2:6-11 For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

I prefer to go with the judgment of the Apostle Paul, if it clashes with Calvin's. Calvin again plays games with the fathers. Generally speaking, he will claim that his system is closer to theirs than the Catholic system is (hence, his notion of himself as a "reformer" who is bringing the Church back to its former purer state). Yet when it comes to particulars he will admit otherwise. Hence, in this case, he finds that "almost all" fathers have "erred," according to his rock-solid judgment, but not, alas, to a degree anywhere near that of the dreaded papists:

I am little moved by the numerous passages in the writings of the Fathers relating to satisfaction. I see indeed that some (I will frankly say almost all whose books are extant) have either erred in this matter, or spoken too roughly and harshly; but I cannot admit that they were so rude and unskillful as to write these passages in the sense in which they are read by our new satisfactionaries.

(Inst., III, 4:38)

I know that ancient writers sometimes speak harshly; nor do I deny, as I lately said, that they have perhaps erred; but dogmas, which were tainted with a few blemishes now that they have fallen into the unwashed hands of those men, are altogether defiled.

(Inst., III, 4:39)

Here I only wish to show that no scruple should prevent them from giving the name of a sacrament to the absolution of the priest. For they might have answered by the mouth of Augustine, that there is a sanctification without a visible sacrament, and a visible sacrament without internal sanctification. Again, that in the elect alone sacraments effect what they figure. Again, that some put on Christ so far as the receiving of the sacrament, and others so far as sanctification; that the former is done equally by the good and the bad, the latter by the good only. Surely they were more deluded than children, and blind in the full light of the sun when they toiled with so much difficulty, and perceived not a matter so plain and obvious to every man.

There are several false Protestant premises here that have been dealt with previously, so I'll let this pass.

17. Penance not truly a sacrament. Baptism the sacrament of penitence.

Lest they become elated, however, whatever be the part in which they place the sacrament, I deny that it can justly be regarded as a sacrament; first, because there exists not to this effect any special promise of God, which is the only ground of a sacrament; and, secondly, because whatever ceremony is here used is a mere invention of man; whereas, as has already been shown, the ceremonies of sacraments can only be appointed by God.

Ceremonies are not of the essence of a sacrament, but rather, the understanding of what it is and what it does, in and through the ceremony which my differ somewhat. The essence of this sacrament is clearly laid out in Holy Scripture.

Their fiction of the sacrament of penance, therefore, was falsehood and imposture. This fictitious sacrament they adorned with the befitting eulogium, that it was the second plank in the case of shipwreck, because if any one had, by sin, injured the garment of innocence received in baptism, he might repair it by penitence. This was a saying of Jerome. Let it be whose it may, as it is plainly impious, it cannot be excused if understood in this sense; as if baptism were effaced by sin, and were not rather to be recalled to the mind of the sinner whenever he thinks of the forgiveness of sins, that he may thereby recollect himself, regain courage, and be confirmed in the belief that he shall obtain the forgiveness of sins which was promised him in baptism. What Jerome said harshly and improperly—viz. that baptism, which is fallen from by those who deserve to be excommunicated from the Church, is repaired by penitence, these worthy expositors wrest to their own impiety. You will speak most correctly, therefore, if you call baptism the sacrament of penitence, seeing it is given to those who aim at repentance to confirm their faith and seal their confidence. But lest you should think this our invention, it appears, that besides being conformable to the words of Scripture, it was generally regarded in the early Church as an indubitable axiom. For in the short Treatise on Faith addressed to Peter, and bearing the name of Augustine, it is called, The sacrament of faith and repentance. But why have recourse to doubtful writings, as if anything can be required more distinct than the statement of the Evangelist, that John preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins”? (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).

So says Calvin. But this is a major problem of his whole approach. He appoints himself as Judge of the entire history of the Church, of the fathers and doctors, and of Holy Mother Church herself, and her Sacred Tradition. He appeals to Holy Scripture but arbitrarily makes himself its final interpreter, no matter how many or how eminent the persons who disagree with him. Hence he freely admits above that there is much in the fathers about penance, that he deems to be in error, but to him that is irrelevant in the end. He simply dismisses it and adds that Catholics of his time do far worse than the fathers who were already wrong.

But what authority does Calvin have? Why should anyone believe him, if he dissents from so much prior Christian doctrinal history? This he never answers satisfactorily; he simply assumes it. And that is unacceptable and a major flaw in the entire edifice he attempts to construct in his Institutes. It's built on a foundation of sand, consisting of his various false premises and his groundless and absurd presumption of authority.
18. Extreme Unction described. No foundation for it in the words of James.
The third fictitious sacrament is Extreme Unction, which is performed only by a priest, and, as they express it, in extremis, with oil consecrated by the bishop, and with this form of words, “By this holy unction, and his most tender mercy, may God forgive you whatever sin you have committed, by the eye, the ear, the smell, the touch, the taste” (see Calv. Epist. de Fugiend. Illicit. Sac.). They pretend that there are two virtues in it—the forgiveness of sins, and relief of bodily disease, if so expedient; if not expedient, the salvation of the soul. For they say, that the institution was set down by James, whose words are, “Is any sick among you? let him send for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14).

That would seem to be a reasonable and sufficient scriptural proof, would it not?

The same account is here to be given of this unction as we lately gave of the laying on of hands; in other words, it is mere hypocritical stage-play, by which, without reason or result, they would resemble the apostles. Mark relates that the apostles, on their first mission, agreeably to the command which they had received of the Lord, raised the dead, cast out devils, cleansed lepers, healed the sick, and, in healing, used oil. He says, they “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13).

A second plain biblical proof. Calvin either argues that there is no express biblical proof (as he erroneously fancies regarding penance) or if there is clear proof, then he tries to explain it away or rationalize it as of no import. But here he will take a third course: deny that the miraculous happens anymore.

To this James referred when he ordered the presbyters of the Church to be called to anoint the sick. That no deeper mystery lay under this ceremony will easily be perceived by those who consider how great liberty both our Lord and his apostles used in those external things. Our Lord, when about to give sight to the blind man, spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle; some he cured by a touch, others by a word. In like manner the apostles cured some diseases by word only, others by touch, others by anointing.

Yes, the sacramental principle and use of matter to convey grace is a common biblical motif.

But it is probable that neither this anointing nor any of the other things were used at random. I admit this; not, however, that they were instruments of the cure, but only symbols to remind the ignorant whence this great virtue proceeded, and prevent them from ascribing the praise to the apostles.

Of course. Here is the lack of faith and antipathy to matter, and the silly pitting of matter against spirit. Calvin can't admit that anything actually happens because of matter!

To designate the Holy Spirit and his gifts by oil is trite and common (Ps. 45:8).

It is not so if this is the biblical model and teaching.

But the gift of hearing disappeared with the other miraculous powers which the Lord was pleased to give for a time, that it might render the new preaching of the gospel for ever wonderful. Therefore, even were we to grant that anointing was a sacrament of those powers which were then administered by the hands of the apostles, it pertains not to us, to whom no such powers have been committed.

Thus, in one fell swoop, Calvin dismisses the clear biblical proofs by this ridiculous notion that all such powers have now ceased: an idea that (quite ironically, given Calvin's professed allegiance to sola Scriptura) has not the slightest shred of biblical proof anywhere. If he takes out an entire huge category, with no reason whatever, then anything that is included within it is also eliminated. But there is no argument for the removal. It is completely arbitrary and groundless: not seen in the Bible at all.

19. No better ground for making this unction a sacrament, than any of the other symbols mentioned in Scripture.

And what better reason have they for making a sacrament of this unction, than of any of the other symbols which are mentioned in Scripture? Why do they not dedicate some pool of Siloam, into which, at certain seasons the sick may plunge themselves? That, they say, were done in vain. Certainly not more in vain than unction. Why do they not lay themselves on the dead, seeing that Paul, in raising up the dead youth, lay upon him? Why is not clay made of dust and spittle a sacrament?

Most of these sorts of things we would regard as sacramentals. What is determined to be a sacrament is, in the end, determined by the Church, based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. But Calvin rejects that methodology (for no good reason, let alone scriptural one).

The other cases were special, but this is commanded by James. In other words, James spake agreeably to the time when the Church still enjoyed this blessing from God. They affirm, indeed, that there is still the same virtue in their unction, but we experience differently. Let no man now wonder that they have with so much confidence deluded souls which they knew to be stupid and blind, because deprived of the word of God, that is, of his light and life, seeing they blush not to attempt to deceive the bodily perceptions of those who are alive, and have all their senses about them. They make themselves ridiculous, therefore, by pretending that they are endued with the gift of healing. The Lord, doubtless, is present with his people in all ages, and cures their sicknesses as often as there is need, not less than formerly; and yet he does not exert those manifest powers, nor dispense miracles by the hands of apostles, because that gift was temporary, and owing, in some measure, to the ingratitude of men, immediately ceased.

So now Calvin switches tactics and admits that yes, perhaps healings still occur, but then he has to drive a wedge between God as the sole agent, and men as the instrument, as if men were not used precisely as the instruments of healing all the time in Holy Scripture. It's all completely arbitrary and circular reasoning. It's no surprise that no Bible passages are adduced in alleged proof.

20. Insult offered by this unction to the Holy Spirit. It cannot be a sacrament, as it was not instituted by Christ, and has no promise annexed to it.

Wherefore, as the apostles, not without cause, openly declared, by the symbol of oil, that the gift of healing committed to them was not their own, but the power of the Holy Spirit; so, on the other hand, these men insult the Holy Spirit by making his power consist in a filthy oil of no efficacy.

More classic false dichotomies. Calvin seems literally unable to comprehend that God uses the oil as a means of the power to heal that comes solely through Him. All men add is faith and obedience. The use of the adjective "filthy" oil gives away his irrational prejudices.

It is just as if one were to say that all oil is the power of the Holy Spirit, because it is called by that name in Scripture, and that every dove is the Holy Spirit, because he appeared in that form.

No sane, conscious person would say that. But it makes a wonderful straw man, doesn't it?

Let them see to this: it is sufficient for us that we perceive, with absolute certainty, that their unction is no sacrament, as it is neither a ceremony appointed by God, nor has any promise.

Despite the Scripture we have already seen: that Calvin himself cited . . .

For when we require, in a sacrament, these two things, that it be a ceremony appointed by God, and have a promise from God, we at the same time demand that that ceremony be delivered to us, and that that promise have reference to us.

What Calvin demands and what biblical, traditional, developed Christianity requires are two different things.

No man contends that circumcision is now a sacrament of the Christian Church, although it was both an ordinance of God, and had his promise annexed to it, because it was neither commanded to us, nor was the promise annexed to it given us on the same condition.

It was the Church that decided that, in a binding decision (Jerusalem Council of Acts 15): this is precisely the sort of authority that Calvin does not have, to pronounce against a sacrament.

The promise of which they vaunt so much in unction, as we have clearly demonstrated, and they themselves show by experience, has not been given to us. The ceremony behoved to be used only by those who had been endued with the gift of healing, not by those murderers, who do more by slaying and butchering than by curing.

All Calvin can do is deny that no one could ever be healed or helped in their salvation by anointing in this sacrament. He has no proof of that. It is "demolition by arbitrary proclamation of a prior [unproven] impossibility." This is exactly how atheists argue against Christianity: "miracles can't possibly happen [premise], therefore they don't in fact occur, no matter what the claims may be, or how reliable the eyewitnesses." Categories of thought and possibility are constructed, and then the person subject to those tries to force actual reality into the predetermined categories.

21. No correspondence between the unction enjoined by James and the anointing of the Papists.

Even were it granted that this precept of unction, which has nothing to do with the present age,

It doesn't? Says who?

were perfectly adapted to it, they will not even thus have advanced much in support of their unction, with which they have hitherto besmeared us. James would have all the sick to be anointed: these men besmear, with their oil, not the sick, but half-dead carcasses, when life is quivering on the lips, or, as they say, in extremis. If they have a present cure in their sacrament, with which they can either alleviate the bitterness of disease, or at least give some solace to the soul, they are cruel in never curing in time.

It is more important in the case of a dying man, so that he can be saved, and that might account for an over-emphasis on such cases in the past. But if so, that is only a just criticism of an abuse, that doesn't undermine the sacrament itself or its rationale. The Church now emphasizes a wider application of this sacrament.

James would have the sick man to be anointed by the elders of the Church. They admit no anointer but a priestling. When they interpret the elders of James to be priests, and allege that the plural number is used for honour, the thing is absurd; as if the Church had at that time abounded with swarms of priests, so that they could set out in long procession, bearing a dish of sacred oil. James, in ordering simply that the sick be anointed, seems to me to mean no other anointing than that of common oil, nor is any other mentioned in the narrative of Mark. These men deign not to use any oil but that which has been consecrated by a bishop, that is warmed with much breath, charmed by much muttering, and saluted nine times on bended knee, Thrice Hail, holy oil! thrice Hail, holy chrism! thrice Hail, holy balsam!

Not every jot and tittle of everything need be in Scripture (that is not itself a biblical teaching, but rather, a tradition of men). So none of this objection to doctrinal development is of any relevance or force.

From whom did they derive these exorcisms? James says, that when the sick man shall have been anointed with oil, and prayer shall have been made over him, if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him—viz. that his guilt being forgiven, he shall obtain a mitigation of the punishment, not meaning that sins are effaced by oil, but that the prayers by which believers commended their afflicted brother to God would not be in vain.

It's a distinction without a difference. If the command is anoint and pray, and the result is healing and/or salvation or setting the person on the right course of salvation, at any rate, then how is it different (in result) to say that the oil had nothing to do with it? The oil was commanded for a reason. If it had no place whatever in the chain of causation, then why would God even bother to include it? In another sense, it is beside the point whether it was the actual instrument or not, since the fact remains that it is part of the process, as commanded in Scripture. If we are obedient to that, we do it, wholly apart from philosophical speculations as to cause and effect. Calvin, like the Pharisees, is hung up on the lesser details and thus misses the essence of the practice. He can't see the forest for the trees.

These men are impiously false in saying that sins are forgiven by their sacred, that is, abominable unction.

The Bible says they are. That is sufficient. The Bible is authoritative and inspired revelation. Calvin's writing has neither quality.

See how little they gain, even when they are allowed to abuse the passage of James as they list.

How do we do that? It's simple enough: we pray for men and use anointing oil.

And to save us the trouble of a laborious proof, their own annals relieve us from all difficulty; for they relate that Pope Innocent, who presided over the church of Rome in the age of Augustine, ordained, that not elders only, but all Christians, should use oil in anointing, in their own necessity, or in that of their friends. Our authority for this is Sigebert, in his Chronicles.

That is an example of something that can legitimately be altered by the Church. In this case, the current canonical law is more in conformity with the Bible, since it was the original disciples (who represent priests) and "elders" who perform the rite.

No comments: