Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Are Jesus' "Brothers" (I.e., Cousins or Step-Brothers) Always Hanging Around Mary? Doesn't This Prove That They Are Actually His Siblings?


This exchange occurred on the CHNI forum. The person who asked the questions is, by his own description, "Raised RC, denominational orphan, post-Protestant." I suspect that he may have come up with this question through the influence of a Protestant source or direct challenge (but maybe not). He is seeking answers, and I gave a shot at providing what I thought was a decent Catholic reply to his query. As usual, when I try to answer a question, I learn a lot myself. That is one of the joys and benefits of apologetics. His words are in blue, others' in green and purple, and mine in black.

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Okay, so here’s an old question with (I think) a new twist. I’m now trying to come to terms with the Church’s teaching on the perpetual virginity of Mary and exactly who the ‘brothers’ of Jesus were. I’ve read all kinds of apologetics on the subject, but there’s one thing that no one seems to address that keeps nagging at me and I can’t piece together: why were the supposed brothers & sisters of Jesus, who were not Mary’s actual children commonly pictured in Scripture with her? Like I’ve said, I’ve read most of the common apologetic books and online material I could get my hands on so I don’t need all the common arguments repeated. I know the Greek word adelphos meant brother, and it was actually a transference of a middle-eastern phrase ‘brother’ since there was no word for [cousin] in Aramaic or Hebrew. My understanding is that after St. Jerome wrote his tract Against Helvidius, the Church has generally accepted that the brothers were probably Jesus’ cousins. However, for a theory to work, it has to coinhere – that is, all the parts have to fit together in a coherent way. But no apologists ever seem to explain why these ‘cousins’ of Jesus are commonly pictured with Mary.

In Matthew 12.46, it says Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside the house trying to speak with him, and in Matthew 13.55 these ‘cousins’ are listed together with Mary. This seems somewhat odd in a middle-eastern culture in which sons were more commonly listed as being the son of their father as Scripture often does. So I guess what I’m wondering is whether someone can point me to some good references to account for what is happening with these cousins who always seem to be hanging out with their aunt Mary? If one or two of them were listed or were going along for moral support it would make sense, but 6+ cousins listed with their auntie and all tagging along in a gaggle for moral support doesn't really make a lot of sense. But perhaps there's cultural info that I'm not aware of that someone can point me to that will make better sense of this picture. In contrast, I understand that in the earliest Church it was generally believed that these ‘brothers’ of Jesus were older children of Joseph (who was widowed) from a prior marriage (i.e. step-brothers to Jesus). This to me would make more sense – that step-brothers of Jesus would naturally be pictured and listed with their step-mother. It kind of puzzles me that most Catholic apologists (and the western Church) turned away from several hundred years of tradition at the time of St. Jerome to follow a new and novel idea that the ‘brothers’ were actually Jesus' cousins. I find it odd that the Church made this sudden right turn away from a long held tradition, whereas in many instances something like this is used as an argument that something should be believed: because the Church had held to it for hundreds of years from apostolic days. Any thoughts & suggestions as to how to think about all this? Am I free to hold to either viewpoint regarding who the brothers were if I came into the Church? I'm puzzled because even the catechism indicates the brothers were sons of another Mary (500) - which makes me think this has now been definitively defined. Even if not, I would still feel like the odd man out since everyone seems to be on the ‘cousins’ bandwagon, but from what I can see there’s a few serious holes in that that viewpoint that no seems to address from an apologetics perspective which leaves me perplexed. Any help and insight would be appreciated.

If Mary had male children other than Jesus, it would have been a HUGE insult to them for Jesus to entrust her care to the apostle John who was not a "blood" relation.

Unfortunately, this is the standard Catholic response which I've seen many times, but doesn't really answer MY question above. Why were the supposed cousins of Jesus always pictured as hanging out with Mary? I find the standard Catholic response to this question is not an answer at all. Instead, all there seems to be to this question so far is more perplexing questions thrown my way - but I'm hoping someone will be actually be able to answer the questions rather than evading them with more questions. All I want is the truth & to get to the bottom of things wherever that may take me. Thanks!

Have you had a chance to go to His questions like yours go even farther into the logic of letting our minds go. Here lets take one of his arguments very similar to the unanswered loose ends curiosity you have discovered. Also, we see from Mt. 27:55-56, that the James and Joses mentioned in Mark 6 as the "brothers" of Jesus, are actually the sons of another Mary. And, one other passage to consider is Acts 1:14-15, "[The Apostles] with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers...the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty." A company of 120 persons composed of the Apostles, Mary, the women, and the "brothers" of Jesus. Let's see there were 11 Apostles at the time. Jesus' mother makes 12. The women, probably the same three women mentioned in Matthew 27, but let's say it was maybe a dozen or two, just for argument's sake. So that puts us up to 30 or 40 or so. So that leaves the number of Jesus' brothers at about 80 or 90! Do you think Mary had 80 or 90 children? She would have been in perpetual labor! No, Scripture does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church about the "brothers" of Jesus, when Scripture is properly interpreted in context.

The step-brothers scenario would be one plausible answer. I believe that is preferred by the Orthodox Church, and as far as I know (I'm not absolutely certain), it is a permissible option for a Catholic to believe. We are required to believe in Mary's perpetual virginity, meaning that she was always a virgin and had no other children, and that Jesus' birth was a miraculous one, not (far as I know without checking) in any particular hypothesis accounting for the exact nature of the relationship of these persons called Jesus' "brothers" in Scripture, according to standard Hebrew / Aramaic cultural custom.

If indeed they are cousins (as I am inclined to believe, from extensive exegetical examination: see the "Perpetual Virginity" section of my Blessed Virgin Mary web page for all those in-depth arguments), I think the way to answer this would be to better understand the nature of the ancient Hebrew extended family.

Here is a description from a website called Ancient Hebrew Research Center. It is referring more so to the nomadic, OT period, but I suspect that in Jesus' day it wasn't all that different:

    The family, children, parents and grandparents, all resided in one tent. The clan consisted of the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, all residing in one camp and may contain as many as 50 to 100 tents laid out in a circular pattern. When the clan becomes too large for one area to support, the tribe splits into two clans (see Genesis 13). All the clans (all being descended from one ancestor) may cover hundreds of square miles making up the tribe. As an example, the house of Moses, of the clan of Levi, of the tribe of Israel.

The Hebrew "household" (if not virtually always) often would contain extended family members. It was not like our nuclear families of today. For example, in the book, Families in Ancient Israel (Leo G. Perdue, editor; Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) we find this description:

    The familial roles of males in the household's kinship structure included those of lineal descent and marriage -- grandfather, father, son, and husband -- and those lateral relationships -- brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin.

    (pp. 179-180)

The household often even extended to sojourners or hired laborers (ibid., p. 199). In this book, the "household" is casually described as including cousins. For example:

    The line of responsibility to serve as the household's or clan's "goel"* began with the brother, then the uncle, then the cousin, and, finally, any close relative.

    (p. 192)

* = "redeemer", or the one "responsible for the justice and well-being of the family."

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1975) makes the nature of the Israelite family very clear, by noting that it could include more than one nuclear family (thus, cousins would be residing together):

    The basic social unit, comprised of persons related by kinship and sharing a common residence. The Israelite family was an extended family known as the "father's house" or "household" (Heb. "bet-ab"), consisting of two or more nuclear families (i.e., a married couple and their children) or composite families (an individual with multiple spouses and their offspring) . . . other kin (including grandparents), servants, concubines, and sojourners might also be reckoned part of the household (cf. Gen. 46:5-7, 26).

    ("Family," p. 376)

Moreover, on the next page, this reference work noted that clans also usually "occupied the same or adjacent towns." Extended families stuck together. It was like a perpetual family reunion. This would easily account for first or second or third cousins (all referred to as "brothers" in Semitic or Near Eastern culture (then and now) all "hanging around" in one place.

In a fascinating article, "The 'Brothers and Sisters' of Jesus: Anything New?," François Rossier notes how the NT use of "brothers" when meaning "cousins" might be explained, by analogy:

    This plurality of interpretations has been made possible because of the ambiguity of the word "brother" (and "sister") in ancient Hebrew. This language, like Aramaic, does not distinguish between blood brother and cousin. In fact--and this point might not have been taken into sufficient consideration--the Hebrew word "ah," in its literal meaning, applies to any close male relative of the same generation. Once someone belongs to this circle--whether as sibling, half-brother, step-brother or cousin--he is an "ah." Within this circle defined by true family brotherhood no further word distinction is made. For ancient Hebrew, one belongs either to the family in-group or not. . . .

    The psychological and anthropological reality of speaking and writing in a language of another culture is, however, more complex. I was able to witness it when I was living in Abidjan, the major city of the Ivory Coast, in West Africa. It is today a big city of about four million inhabitants that grew up in a zone originally scarcely populated. The sparse original population was not able to absorb the waves of immigrants coming from all over the former French colonies in West Africa. The only language all these people had in common was French, and French became thus the native language of Abidjan. In most native languages of West Africa, no distinction is made between a "brother" and a "cousin," whereas such a distinction exists in French. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Abidjan, whose mother tongue is French, who have been raised and educated in French, continue to use the French word for "brother" when they speak of a "cousin." Using the French word for "cousin" would betray the way they envision social and family relationships. When the people of Abidjan want to specify that "brother" means a true blood sibling, they need to add "same father, same mother" ("même père, même mère"). Full siblings are a particular kind of brothers; they do not constitute the benchmark of brotherhood. The socio-cultural milieu of the authors of the New Testament is Judaism. So, we can accept the idea that, even if their text does not suppose a Hebrew or Aramaic substrate, in their use of Greek words they would naturally convey the way their own Judaic society and culture envision social and family relationships. . . .

    Nowhere in the New Testament are the "brothers" of Jesus also identified as “sons of Mary” within the same context. Whereas, again in Mark 6:3, Jesus is identified as "the son of Mary" by the people of Nazareth.

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Further exchanges since the first posting:

Thanks Dave A. You da' man! Your reply and articles really helped - especially that last article since the book it references Mary in the New Testament is one of the texts I've been looking through. From thinking this over the past week, it seems that based on Scripture alone a conclusive argument can't be made that the 'brothers' of Jesus were necessarily half-brothers. And like the rest of Scripture, who the 'brothers' were needs to be understood within its context or tradition - which has been that Mary has always been a virgin - including subsequent to the birth of Jesus. I think I can accept this with intellectual integrity. From what you posted I can see that the cousin argument has merit and it's something I'll have to mull over some more.

However, one thing I am still puzzled about is how the Catechism can seemingly define the 'brothers' to be cousins in paragraph 500, and yet I've read in various places that Catholics are still free to hold to the step-brothers theory. But doesn't the fact that the 'brothers' are spelled out in the Catechism as cousins close the door to any other possibilities and define what must now be believed? I'm thinking there must be something here I'm not understanding.

CCC #500:

    Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. 157

    [Footnote 157: Cf. Mk 3:31-35; 6:3; 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19.]

    The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary". 158

    [Footnote 158: Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf. Mt 27:56.]

    They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. 159

    [Footnote 159: Cf. Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.]

The Catechism here only refers to James and Joseph, not all the "brothers" of Jesus. And it does because there is explicit biblical indication (I've written about it myself) that these two are sons of another Mary. This would (logically) leave an option open for other possible explanations for additional "brothers" (cousins, more distant relatives, or step-brothers). The dogmatic part (long since settled by the Church) remains the negative appraisal on siblings of Jesus: "The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary."

"They are close relations" may refer (it's not clear to me) to all such "brothers" or to James and Joseph only. But either way, "close relations" could easily refer either to cousins in close proximity or to step-brothers. In Semitic culture there is less of a distinction of the fine categories because the family was mostly regarded as extended rather than primary, as we know it in modern urban, western culture.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

ELCA (Lutheran Body) Votes to Allow Noncelibate Homosexual Clergy

ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.6 million members) approved this resolution on 21 August 2009, by a vote of 559 to 451, at their biennial Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. Previously, celibate homosexuals were allowed to be ordained. Now, it is required that a commitment to one (sexual) partner is the norm.

By so doing, it has removed itself from historic Protestant orthodoxy and moral teaching and makes inevitable a schism within the ranks that may be as momentous as that which has plagued Anglicanism, for the same reasons.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) has denounced the decision, as have the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).

For the biblical, historic Christian teaching on homosexuality (on which all Christian bodies used to be united until recent times), see:

Dialogue on Homosexuality (Dave Armstrong vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)
Dialogue With a Bisexual Agnostic on Homosexuality (+ Part II, which includes very extensive medical/scientific data)
Dialogue With an Atheist on Homosexuality

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,10:27-32) [Church Laws / Calvinist Ecclesiology / Eucharist "Demoted" / "Clearness" of Scripture]


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



27. Third part of the chapter, treating of lawful Ecclesiastical arrangements. Their foundation in the general axiom, that all things be done decently and in order. Two extremes to be avoided.

But as very many ignorant persons, on hearing that it is impious to bind the conscience, and vain to worship God with human traditions, apply one blot to all the laws by which the order of the Church is established, it will be proper to obviate their error. Here, indeed, the danger of mistake is great: for it is not easy to see at first sight how widely the two things differ. But I will, in a few words, make the matter so clear, that no one will be imposed upon by the resemblance. First, then, let us understand that if in every human society some kind of government is necessary to insure the common peace and maintain concord, if in transacting business some form must always be observed, which public decency, and hence humanity itself, require us not to disregard, this ought especially to be observed in churches, which are best sustained by a constitution in all respects well ordered, and without which concord can have no existence.

So far so good. But as we have seen so many times, Calvin can and will start with a good premise, and greatly err in its application, in specifics.

Wherefore, if we would provide for the safety of the Church, we must always carefully attend to Paul’s injunction, that all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). But seeing there is such diversity in the manners of men, such variety in their minds, such repugnance in their judgments and dispositions, no policy is sufficiently firm unless fortified by certain laws, nor can any rite be observed without a fixed form.

That's precisely why Protestant denominationalism is a recipe for chaos and theological relativism and heterodoxy of various sorts (as indeed has occurred throughout history).

So far, therefore, are we from condemning the laws which conduce to this, that we hold that the removal of them would unnerve the Church, deface and dissipate it entirely. For Paul’s injunction, that all things be done decently and in order, cannot be observed unless order and decency be secured by the addition of ordinances, as a kind of bonds. In these ordinances, however, we must always attend to the exception, that they must not be thought necessary to salvation, nor lay the conscience under a religious obligation; they must not be compared to the worship of God, nor substituted for piety.

Let's see how Calvin builds upon this.

28. All Ecclesiastical arrangements to be thus tested. What Paul means by things done decently and in order.

We have, therefore, a most excellent and sure mark to distinguish between those impious constitutions (by which, as we have said, true religion is overthrown, and conscience subverted)

The Catholic ones, of course (singularly evil and corrupt) . . . .

and the legitimate observances of the Church,

And of course this is (and could only be) Calvinism: not even Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, Anglicanism, or Anabaptism.

if we remember that one of two things, or both together, are always intended—viz. that in the sacred assembly of the faithful, all things may be done decently, and with becoming dignity, and that human society may be maintained in order by certain bonds, as it were, of moderation and humanity. For when a law is understood to have been made for the sake of public decency, there is no room for the superstition into which those fall who measure the worship of God by human inventions. On the other hand, when a law is known to be intended for common use, that false idea of its obligation and necessity, which gives great alarm to the conscience, when traditions are deemed necessary to salvation, is overthrown; since nothing here is sought but the maintenance of charity by a common office. But it may be proper to explain more clearly what is meant by the decency which Paul commends, and also what is comprehended under order. And the object of decency is, partly that by the use of rites, which produce reverence in sacred matters, we may be excited to piety, and partly that the modesty and gravity which ought to be seen in all honourable actions may here especially be conspicuous.

Calvin provides his readers with more unproven assumptions: that Catholic worship is based on "human inventions." The rhetoric sounds fine and dandy; mightily impressive and eloquent, but the content is rarely laid out so that it can be scrutinized by a critic or even a neutral observer.

In order, the first thing is, that those who preside know the law and rule of right government, while those who are governed be accustomed to obedience and right discipline.

And how is this determined? Calvin either invents new laws of his own (if he detests existing Catholic laws), in which case his are merely arbitrary and carry no force of obligation, since they derive from him (and his authority is purely arbitrary and self-proclaimed), and hence, are more "human inventions." Or he appeals to Scripture for his positions (insofar as they are opposed to the Catholic Church), in which case anyone, even by Protestant presuppositions, can easily question whether his interpretation is correct or not, and offer another in its place. Either way, the epistemology is far inferior to traditional Catholicism, which is based on apostolic succession and sticking to previous received precedent and tradition: consistently developed. That was the biblical, apostolic, and patristic worldview.

The second thing is, that by duly arranging the state of the Church, provision be made for peace and tranquillity.

And by what laws do we do this, and by what authority?

29. Nothing decent in the Popish ceremonies. Description of true decency. Examples of Christian decency and order.

We shall not, therefore, give the name of decency to that which only ministers an empty pleasure: such, for example, as is seen in that theatrical display which the Papists exhibit in their public service, where nothing appears but a mask of useless splendour, and luxury without any fruit.

That's right: Catholicism is downright indecent. Who could doubt it?

But we give the name of decency to that which, suited to the reverence of sacred mysteries, forms a fit exercise for piety, or at least gives an ornament adapted to the action, and is not without fruit, but reminds believers of the great modesty, seriousness, and reverence, with which sacred things ought to be treated.

That is, Calvinism again: the restoration of all that is good, noble, decent, prudent, and wise.

Moreover, ceremonies, in order to be exercises of piety, must lead us directly to Christ. In like manner, we shall not make order consist in that nugatory pomp which gives nothing but evanescent splendour, but in that arrangement which removes all confusion, barbarism, contumacy, all turbulence and dissension.

Flowery rhetoric with no content that anyone could critique. This lowers theological discourse to the level of schoolyard "your dad's uglier than mine" taunts.

Of the former class we have examples (1 Cor. 11:5, 21), where Paul says, that profane entertainments must not be intermingled with the sacred Supper of the Lord; that women must not appear in public uncovered. And there are many other things which we have in daily practice, such as praying on our knees, and with our head uncovered, administering the sacraments of the Lord, not sordidly, but with some degree of dignity; employing some degree of solemnity in the burial of our dead, and so forth.

There are faults in human practice in all religions. These are not confined to Catholicism by any means (either then or now). Luther in particular, bemoaned (especially later in his life) how "ungrateful" and carnally-minded Lutherans were, and that they were less pious than even the "papists." So it isn't as if all the Catholics were wicked and unspiritual, and the Calvinists and Lutherans were spiritually pure and in earnest, at exponentially higher rates. That is one of the great big myths of the so-called "Reformation." And we need only go to the leaders of the movement to debunk it. Calvin sounds very confident here, but in private letters he, too, lamented some of the glaring flaws in his movement.

In the other class are the hours set apart for public prayer, sermon, and solemn services; during sermon, quiet and silence, fixed places, singing of hymns, days set apart for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper,

Note how Calvin casually assumes that the Holy Eucharist is not to be part of every worship service. This exhibits the anti-sacramental strain of Calvinist thinking. The very center and focus of Christian worship in the Mass: receiving Jesus into our bodies, and the representation of the one sacrifice at Calvary, is removed from its position. Mere preaching is all Calvin can offer to replace the miracle and mystery of the Holy Eucharist and Sacrifice of the Mass. And even when he does celebrate it, Jesus is no longer physically present, so that the age-old Catholic, Christian belief is gutted of its essence and unique power and significance.

the prohibition of Paul against women teaching in the Church, and such like. To the same list especially may be referred those things which preserve discipline, as catechising, ecclesiastical censures, excommunication, fastings, &c. Thus all ecclesiastical constitutions, which we admit to be sacred and salutary, may be reduced to two heads, the one relating to rites and ceremonies, the other to discipline and peace.

Now he mentions fasting in a positive vein, whereas before he denigrated the Catholic prohibition of meat on Fridays. Whatever is Catholic is bad, no matter how many parallels to it may be found in Calvinism. Calvin doesn't even try to be consistent, where Catholicism is concerned.

30. No arrangement decent and orderly, unless founded on the authority of God, and derived from Scripture. Charity the best guide in these matters.

But as there is here a danger, on the one hand, lest false bishops should thence derive a pretext for their impious and tyrannical laws, and, on the other, lest some, too apt to take alarm, should, from fear of the above evils, leave no place for laws, however holy, it may here be proper to declare, that I approve of those human constitutions only which are founded on the authority of God, and derived from Scripture, and are therefore altogether divine.

That is: from Scripture, as determined by the interpretation of Calvin. But why should his take be placed above that of the historic Church and hundreds of years of precedent? Who made him God's man of the hour: a man supposedly singularly gifted and knowledgeable in Matters Spiritual? If he is not infallible (as he would surely not claim to be), then a person can differ with his opinion as to what Scripture teaches with regard to proper worship, discipline, etc. Catholics defer to the Catholic Church to determine those things. Protestants defer to Scripture, but this always means in practice: a particular person's or party's interpretation of Scripture.

If they are not specially guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret, then in fact they possess no binding authority. Catholics believe that the true Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and is infallible; therefore, can be trusted to promulgate truth. But Protestants deny the infallibility of the Church. So round and round it goes. Protestant authority and epistemological principles are always self-defeating in the final analysis.

Let us take, for example, the bending of the knee which is made in public prayer. It is asked, whether this is a human tradition, which any one is at liberty to repudiate or neglect? I say, that it is human, and that at the same time it is divine. It is of God, inasmuch as it is a part of that decency, the care and observance of which is recommended by the apostle; and it is of men, inasmuch as it specially determines what was indicated in general, rather than expounded. From this one example, we may judge what is to be thought of the whole class—viz. that the whole sum of righteousness, and all the parts of divine worship, and everything necessary to salvation, the Lord has faithfully comprehended, and clearly unfolded, in his sacred oracles, so that in them he alone is the only Master to be heard.

And of course, Protestants disagreed then, and have always disagreed on the "sacred oracles" where teaching is "clearly unfolded." This is one of their prime difficulties. Luther believed in the Real, Physical Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Many of the early Anglicans concurred. But Calvin and Bucer and Bullinger held to a "mystical presence" only (and even Luther's successor Melanchthon later inclined to that view). Zwingli and the Anabaptists held to a purely symbolic Eucharist. If Scripture is so "clear" on the matter, from whence derives this disagreement and confusion? And how does one decide which view is the "clear" view of Scripture. We decide because "Calvin (or Luther, etc.) says so? That is hardly compelling. Then we immediately ask, "why should we believe that he is right, over against all the others?"

But as in external discipline and ceremonies, he has not been pleased to prescribe every particular that we ought to observe (he foresaw that this depended on the nature of the times, and that one form would not suit all ages), in them we must have recourse to the general rules which he has given, employing them to test whatever the necessity of the Church may require to be enjoined for order and decency.

And thus the Catholic Church introduced various laws and rites. But Calvin detests those, because (in the end) they are "Catholic." He rarely gives reasons why he is so hostile to Catholic worship and piety. And on the infrequent occasion when he does graciously provide some of those, it is easy for any educated Catholic to expose the fallacies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations rampant in them (as I believe I have been doing throughout this treatment).

Lastly, as he has not delivered any express command, because things of this nature are not necessary to salvation, and, for the edification of the Church, should be accommodated to the varying circumstances of each age and nation, it will be proper, as the interest of the Church may require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new forms. I confess, indeed, that we are not to innovate rashly or incessantly, or for trivial causes. Charity is the best judge of what tends to hurt or to edify: if we allow her to be guide, all things will be safe.

In other words, when Calvinists change things in some fashion, it is on the basis of these wise fundamental principles, and is wise and good and beneficial. But when Catholics do it, it is invariably because of impiety, "human invention," and a desire to torture and enslave the conscience of the masses (i.e., altogether unsavory motivations). The only difference is that it is Catholics who do the things that are supposedly (singularly and almost without exception), abominable.

31. Constitutions thus framed not to be neglected or despised.

Things which have been appointed according to this rule, it is the duty of the Christian people to observe with a free conscience indeed, and without superstition, but also with a pious and ready inclination to obey. They are not to hold them in contempt, nor pass them by with careless indifference, far less openly to violate them in pride and contumacy. You will ask, What liberty of conscience will there be in such cautious observances? Nay, this liberty will admirably appear when we shall hold that these are not fixed and perpetual obligations to which we are astricted, but external rudiments for human infirmity, which, though we do not all need, we, however, all use, because we are bound to cherish mutual charity towards each other. This we may recognise in the examples given above. What? Is religion placed in a woman’s bonnet, so that it is unlawful for her to go out with her head uncovered? Is her silence fixed by a decree which cannot be violated without the greatest wickedness? Is there any mystery in bending the knee, or in burying a dead body, which cannot be omitted without a crime? By no means. For should a woman require to make such haste in assisting a neighbour that she has not time to cover her head, she sins not in running out with her head uncovered.

This rule has obviously gone out the window in Calvinist circles: women must wear bonnets at all times, save for emergency situations? We see it still observed among some Mennonites and Amish (and Muslims), but not mainstream Calvinists.

And there are some occasions on which it is not less seasonable for her to speak than on others to be silent. Nothing, moreover, forbids him who, from disease, cannot bend his knees, to pray standing. In fine, it is better to bury a dead man quickly, than from want of grave-clothes, or the absence of those who should attend the funeral, to wait till it rot away unburied.

All rules have exceptions in extraordinary circumstances. Jesus made that clear, in talking about rescuing a lost sheep on the Sabbath, and other similar examples.

Nevertheless, in those matters the custom and institutions of the country, in short, humanity and the rules of modesty itself, declare what is to be done or avoided.

Yet the Catholic Church is seemingly not allowed by Calvin to employ any such rules and regulations. That is all legalism and dead tradition, with the worst motivation, whereas Calvin's advice is Pure Wisdom through and through.

Here, if any error is committed through imprudence or forgetfulness, no crime is perpetrated; but if this is done from contempt, such contumacy must be disapproved.

This is somewhat like the Catholic distinction between sins which are culpable and mortal and those which are not, based on a lack of knowledge or deliberate intention, or the distinctions of levels or degrees of crime in civil law.

In like manner, it is of no consequence what the days and hours are, what the nature of the edifices, and what psalms are sung on each day. But it is proper that there should be certain days and stated hours, and a place fit for receiving all, if any regard is had to the preservation of peace.

Thus, the notion of "Holy Days" appears to be retained in some fashion. Many Protestants today would hold, to the contrary, that every day is exactly alike.

For what a seed-bed of quarrels will confusion in such matters be, if every one is allowed at pleasure to alter what pertains to common order?

That is, if the Protestant principle of private judgment, supremacy of conscience, and non-infallibility of church bodies is taken to its logical conclusion . . .

All will not be satisfied with the same course if matters, placed as it were on debateable ground, are left to the determination of individuals.

But the Protestant principle does precisely that. Every Protestant must ultimately make up his own mind who to follow, failing an infallible Church of impeccable, unassailable authority.

But if any one here becomes clamorous, and would be wiser than he ought, let him consider how he will approve his moroseness to the Lord. Paul’s answer ought to satisfy us, “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”

Then Calvin's wishes are at odds -- indeed at war with -- with his epistemology and ecclesiology. This is one of the tragedies of the so-called "Reformation": none of its leaders seem to have ever recognized this fatal flaw that runs right through the center of it. All we can do is keep pointing it out.

32. Cautions to be observed in regard to such constitutions.

Moreover, we must use the utmost diligence to prevent any error from creeping in which may either taint or sully this pure use.

That's right! And who determines what is "error"? Well, the Calvinist "church." And is this authority binding? Calvin says it is, yet it is not infallible; thus it is entirely possible and permissible within the system for every individual Calvinist to possibly dissent if his conscience demands it. The Calvinist appeals to the Bible. But so does the Lutheran and Anabaptist and Zwinglian, and Anglican, and they could never come to total agreement with each other. How is one to arrive at a definite attainment of spiritual, theological truth, with this relativistic chaos in Protestantism (far worse today, with many more sects, and liberalism and other confusing forces in play)?

In this we shall succeed, if whatever observances we use are manifestly useful, and very few in number; especially if to this is added the teaching of a faithful pastor, which may prevent access to erroneous opinions. The effect of this procedure is, that in all these matters each retains his freedom, and yet at the same time voluntarily subjects it to a kind of necessity, in so far as the decency of which we have spoken or charity demands.

And this is a clear self-contradiction. Why is it that Calvin doesn't see that? I submit that in the end, Calvin doesn't care whether his viewpoint is self-consistent or not, as long as it is consistently not Catholic. Anti-Catholicism is the leading motivator and the principle that is present all through the system. Self-consistent reasoning is certainly not the guiding factor.

Next, that in the observance of these things we may not fall into any superstition,

That evil, wicked Catholic stuff . . .

nor rigidly require too much from others, let us not imagine that the worship of God is improved by a multitude of ceremonies: let not church despise church because of a difference in external discipline. Lastly, instead of here laying down any perpetual law for ourselves, let us refer the whole end and use of observances to the edification of the Church, at whose request let us without offence allow not only something to be changed, but even observances which were formerly in use to be inverted.

A clever way of sneaking in the notion of revolution and revolt against received Christian precedent . . . "Change" and "invention" are thus very much in the eye of the beholder.

For the present age is a proof that the nature of times allows that certain rites, not otherwise impious or unbecoming, may be abrogated according to circumstances.

Except when Catholics try to do it.

Such was the ignorance and blindness of former times; with such erroneous ideas and pertinacious zeal did churches formerly cling to ceremonies, that they can scarcely be purified from monstrous superstitions without the removal of many ceremonies which were formerly established, not without cause, and which in themselves are not chargeable with any impiety.

Ah, the anti-Catholicism is now fully manifest; as usual without specifics, particulars, or rational arguments against same. It is always best to be propagandistically vague. Particulars are too messy and take too much work, and they are counter-productive to the anti-Catholic purpose of the negative descriptions. The goal is to taint and demonize the opposing party, and this is best done by repeated slogans and unproven, sweeping, colorful denigrations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,10:19-26) [Corrupt Worship? / Holy Water / Jerusalem Council / Friday Abstinence / "Inventions"]

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



19. Illustration taken from the simple administration of the Lord’s Supper, under the Apostles, and the complicated ceremonies of the Papists.

And not to become prolix, by giving a catalogue of all, we shall be contented with one example. Under the apostles there was great simplicity in administering the Lord’s Supper. Their immediate successors made some additions to the dignity of the ordinance, which are not to be disapproved. Afterwards came foolish imitators,

Who are these fools? When did they start to dominate? It's so easy to make unsubstantiated claims, isn't it?

who, by ever and anon patching various fragments together, have left us those sacerdotal vestments which we see in the mass, those altar ornaments, those gesticulations, and whole farrago of useless observances.

The Church thus went from purity and simplicity to a "farrago of useless observances" we know not how or when. But Calvin tells us it is so, and apparently he expects us to bow to his wisdom, sans rational argument and demonstration.

But they object, that in old time the persuasion was, that those things which were done with the consent of the whole Church proceeded from the apostles. Of this they quote Augustine as a witness. I will give the explanation in the very words of Augustine. “Those things which are observed over the whole world we may understand to have been appointed either by the apostles themselves, or by general councils, whose authority in the Church is most beneficial, as the annual solemn celebration of our Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and any other occurrence observed by the whole Church wherever it exists” (August. Ep. 118). In giving so few examples, who sees not that he meant to refer the observances then in use to authors deserving of faith and reverence;—observances few and sober, by which it was expedient that the order of the Church should be maintained? How widely does this differ from the view of our Roman masters, who insist that there is no paltry ceremony among them which is not apostolical?

Perhaps exaggerated claims were made in some particulars, but at least the Catholics of Calvin's time (and ever since) maintained St. Augustine's view in the Real Presence and the Sacrifice of the Mass. Calvin cites Augustine but does not follow his teachings.

20. Another illustration from the use of Holy Water.

Not to be tedious, I will give only one example.

Fantastic! An example! Our hopes and prayers for Calvin have been fulfilled . . . one is better than none. But only one, out of the hundreds of corruptions and dead traditions that Calvin constantly implies are present in the Church?

Should any one ask them where they get their holy water, they will at once answer,—from the apostles. As if I did not know who the Roman bishop is, to whom history ascribes the invention, and who, if he had admitted the apostles to his council, assuredly never would have adulterated baptism by a foreign and unseasonable symbol; although it does not seem probable to me that the origin of that consecration is so ancient as is there recorded.

Scripture has more than sufficient indication that holy water is not foreign to the Christian, biblical worldview at all, and indeed, quite consistent with it. It refers to water that has been blessed (Ex 23:25), "holy water" (Numbers 5:17), "water for impurity" (Num 19:9, 13-20), “healed” (KJV), “purified” (NASB), or "wholesome" (RSV) water (2 Ki 2:19-22). Water is spoken of as being connected to cleansing (Lev 14:8-9, 50-52, 15:5-27, 17:15; Num 8:7, 19:12, 18-19; 2 Ki 5:12; Ps 51:7; Ezek 16:4, 36:25; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22), purifying (Ex 29:4, 40:12, 30-32; Lev 11:32, 16:4, 24, 26, 28, 22:6; Num 19:7-8, 31:23; Deut 23:10-11; 1 Ki 18:33-34; Jn 2:6; Heb 9:19), and healing (2 Ki 5:14; Is 35:5-7; Jn 5:4; 9:6-7).

For when Augustine says (Ep. 118) that certain churches in his day rejected the formal imitation of Christ in the washing of feet, lest that rite should seem to pertain to baptism, he intimates that there was then no kind of washing which had any resemblance to baptism.

That doesn't necessarily follow. The Catholic Encyclopedia ("Holy Water") gives evidences of early patristic use of holy water. St. Augustine lived from 354-430. I've inserted the dates of other early figures in brackets:
[I]t is permissible to suppose for the sake of argument that, in the earliest Christian times, water was used for expiatory and purificatory purposes, to a way analogous to its employment under the Jewish Law. As, in many cases, the water used for the Sacrament of Baptism was flowing water, sea or river water, it could not receive the same blessing as that contained in the baptisteries. On this particular point the early liturgy is obscure, but two recent discoveries are of very decided interest. The Pontifical of Scrapion of Thumis, a fourth-century bishop, and likewise the "testamentum Domini", a Syriac composition dating from the fifth to the sixth century, contain a blessing of oil and water during Mass. The formula in Scrapion's Pontifical is as follows: "We bless these creatures in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son; we invoke upon this water and this oil the Name of Him Who suffered, Who was crucified, Who arose from the dead, and Who sits at the right of the Uncreated. Grant unto these creatures the power to heal; may all fevers, every evil spirit, and all maladies be put to flight by him who either drinks these beverages or is anointed with them, and may they be a remedy in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son." As early as the fourth century various writings, the authenticity of which is free from suspicion, mention the use of water sanctified either by the liturgical blessing just referred to, or by the individual blessing of some holy person. St. Epiphanius [c. 315-403] (Contra haeres., lib. I, haer. xxx) records that at Tiberias a man named Joseph poured water on a madman, having first made the sign of the cross and pronounced these words over the water: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, crucified, depart from this unhappy one, thou infernal spirit, and let him be healed!" Joseph was converted an subsequently used the same proceeding to overcome witchcraft; yet, he was neither a bishop nor a cleric. Theodoret [c.393-c.466] (Church History V.21) relates that Marcellus, Bishop of Apamea [d. 388], sanctified water by the sign of the cross and that Aphraates [c.280-c.345] cured one of the emperor's horses by making it drink water blessed by the sign of the cross ("Hist. relig.", c. viii, in P.G., LXXXII, col. 1244, 1375). In the West similar attestations are made. Gregory of Tours [538-c.594] (De gloria confess., c. 82) tells of a recluse named Eusitius who lived in the sixth century and possessed the power of curing quartan fever by giving its victims to drink of water that he had blessed; we might mention many other instances treasured up by this same Gregory ("De Miraculis S. Martini", II, xxxix; "Mirac. S. Juliani", II, iii, xxv, xxvi; "Liber de Passione S. Juliani"; "Vitae Patrum", c. iv, n. 3). It is known that some of the faithful believed that holy water possessed curative properties for certain diseases, and that this was true in a special manner of baptismal water. In some places it was carefully preserved throughout the year and, by reason of its having been used in baptism, was considered free from all corruption. This belief spread from East to West; and scarcely had baptism been administered, when the people would crown around with all sorts of vessels and take away the water, some keeping it carefully in their homes whilst others watered their fields, vineyards, and gardens with it ("Ordo rom. I", 42, in "Mus. ital.", II, 26).
Be this as it may, I will never admit that the apostolic spirit gave rise to that daily sign by which baptism, while brought back to remembrance, is in a manner repeated. I attach no importance to the fact, that Augustine elsewhere ascribes other things to the apostles.

And I attach no importance (though much infamy) to the fact that Calvin attributes many things to the fathers, that they did not teach.

For as he has nothing better than conjecture, it is not sufficient for forming a judgment concerning a matter of so much moment. Lastly, though we should grant that the things which he mentions are derived from the apostolic age, there is a great difference between instituting some exercise of piety, which believers may use with a free conscience, or may abstain from if they think the observance not to be useful, and enacting a law which brings the conscience into bondage.

Catholics were obliged to sprinkle holy water on themselves, with penalties for disobedience? One would like to see that proven. But as we know, Calvin is not renowned for documenting his factual assertions regarding supposed history.

Now, indeed, whoever is the author from whom they are derived, since we see the great abuses to which they have led,

What abuses are those?

there is nothing to prevent us from abrogating them without any imputation on him,

Who is "him"?

since he never recommended them in such a way as to lay us under a fixed and immovable obligation to observe them.

So Calvin argues that we don't know who started the practice, but nevertheless, that he didn't recommend the use of holy water in the (unspecified) ways that Calvin detests; therefore, this mysterious originator is freed from blame, even though we don't know who he is. Compelling reasoning there . . .

21. An argument in favour of traditions founded on the decision of the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem. This decision explained.

It gives them no great help, in defending their tyranny, to pretend the example of the apostles. The apostles and elders of the primitive Church, according to them, sanctioned a decree without any authority from Christ, by which they commanded all the Gentiles to abstain from meat offered to idols, from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20).

Not according to Catholics, but according to the Bible.

If this was lawful for them, why should not their successors be allowed to imitate the example as often as occasion requires?

Exactly! Why, indeed? Why should there be an example of a council in the early Church, in Scripture, if not as some sort of model for later Christianity? Is that not an eminently sensible, reasonable conclusion? That is the biblical model. Calvin's model, however, is his casual assumption of his own authority -- that he doesn't in fact possess, and arbitrary decrees of doctrines and condemnations of existing Catholic traditions. If anything is unbiblical and contrary to previous Christian history, it is that, as opposed to Catholics daring to actually follow an explicit biblical example.

Would that they would always imitate them both in this and in other matters!

The same applies to Calvin and all Protestants. If he wants to condemn Catholic instances of alleged or actual departure from apostolic and biblical and patristic precedent, then by the same token he ought to subject Protestantism to the same scrutiny and the same standard. But so often, of course, he does not do so. It's all one-way, and winking at the glaring faults and false premises of his own general party.

For I am ready to prove, on valid grounds, that here nothing new has been instituted or decreed by the apostles. For when Peter declares in that council, that God is tempted if a yoke is laid on the necks of the disciples, he overthrows his own argument if he afterwards allows a yoke to be imposed on them. But it is imposed if the apostles, on their own authority, prohibit the Gentiles from touching meat offered to idols, things strangled, and blood.

The Church has authority to make decrees, and to bind and loose. That came straight from our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:19, 18:18; John 20:23). Jesus even granted the Pharisees a continuing teaching authority (Matthew 23:2-3). But Protestants have to always maintain an unbiblical "loophole" by denying the infallibility of the Church and ecumenical councils and popes.

The difficulty still remains, that they seem nevertheless to prohibit them.

What difficulty?

But this will easily be removed by attending more closely to the meaning of their decree. The first thing in order, and the chief thing in importance, is, that the Gentiles were to retain their liberty, which was not to be disturbed, and that they were not to be annoyed with the observances of the Law. As yet, the decree is all in our favour. The reservation which immediately follows is not a new law enacted by the apostles, but a divine and eternal command of God against the violation of charity, which does not detract one iota from that liberty. It only reminds the Gentiles how they are to accommodate themselves to their brother, and to not abuse their liberty for an occasion of offence. Let the second head, therefore, be, that the Gentiles are to use an innoxious liberty, giving no offence to the brethren. Still, however, they prescribe some certain thing—viz. they show and point out, as was expedient at the time, what those things are by which they may give offence to their brethren, that they may avoid them; but they add no novelty of their own to the eternal law of God, which forbids the offence of brethren.

In a sense it is new; in another it is nothing new; as is the case with all legitimate developments of doctrine and practice. How Calvin thinks any of this is somehow an argument against the Catholic Church, is a mystery. He surely doesn't demonstrate such a glaring inconsistency here.

22. Some things in the Papacy may be admitted for a time for the sake of weak brethren.

As in the case where faithful pastors, presiding over churches not yet well constituted, should intimate to their flocks not to eat flesh on Friday until the weak among whom they live become strong, or to work on a holiday, or any other similar things, although, when superstition is laid aside, these matters are in themselves indifferent, still, where offence is given to the brethren, they cannot be done without sin; so there are times when believers cannot set this example before weak brethren without most grievously wounding their consciences. Who but a slanderer would say that a new law is enacted by those who, it is evident, only guard against scandals which their Master has distinctly forbidden? But nothing more than this can be said of the apostles, who had no other end in view, in removing grounds of offence, than to enforce the divine Law, which prohibits offence; as if they had said, The Lord hath commanded you not to hurt a weak brother; but meats offered to idols, things strangled, and blood, ye cannot eat, without offending weak brethren; we, therefore, require you, in the word of the Lord, not to eat with offence. And to prove that the apostles had respect to this, the best witness is Paul, who writes as follows, undoubtedly according to the sentiments of the council: “As concerning, therefore, the eating of those things which are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.”—“Howbeit, there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”—“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak” (1 Cor. 8:4-9). Any one who duly considers these things will not be imposed upon by the gloss which these men employ when, as a cloak to their tyranny, they pretend that the apostles had begun by their decree to infringe the liberty of the Church. But that they may be unable to escape without confessing the accuracy of this explanation, let them tell me by what authority they have dared to abrogate this very decree. It was, it seems, because there was no longer any danger of those offences and dissensions which the apostles wished to obviate, and they knew that the law was to be judged by its end. Seeing, therefore, the law was passed with a view to charity, there is nothing prescribed in it except in so far as required by charity. In confessing that the transgression of this law is nothing but a violation of charity, do they not at the same time acknowledge that it was not some adventitious supplement to the law of God, but a genuine and simple adaptation of it to the times and manners for which it was destined?

Abstinence from meat on Friday in remembrance of our Lord's death on the cross is, of course, a perfectly scriptural practice and nothing can be said against it. Jesus casually assumed that His disciples would fast (Matthew 6:16-18). The earliest Christians after Pentecost were described as "worshiping the Lord and fasting" (Acts 13:2-3). Anna the prophetess spent her time "worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day" (Luke 2:37). Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). Are we not to imitate Him? But Calvin wishes to take a few passages about liberty to extremes, so that supposedly the Church cannot make any practices whatever binding? The texts don't require that. And, as always, who is Calvin to go against traditions of hundreds of years, grounded in Holy Scripture and the apostles and fathers, and decided upon by assemblies of holy bishops?

23. Observance of the Popish traditions inconsistent with Christian liberty, torturing to the conscience, and insulting to God.

But though such laws are hundreds of times unjust and injurious to us,

Are they, really? Why did the early Christians (at least the Jewish ones) continue to abide by the Jewish festivals and other laws, then, if this is so? Why did they not immediately perceive what Calvin does, about how antithetical virtually all "laws" are to Christian liberty?

still they contend that they are to be heard without exception; for the thing asked of us is not to consent to errors, but only to submit to the strict commands of those set over us,—commands which we are not at liberty to decline (1 Pet. 2:18). But here also the Lord comes to the succour of his word, and frees us from this bondage by asserting the liberty which he has purchased for us by his sacred blood, and the benefit of which he has more than once attested by his word.

Again, Calvin sets one word, "liberty" and a few passages taken out of context, against the self-evident biblical notion of Church authority. It just won't work. No matter how much he may wish this were the case, the Bible can't be stretched far enough to make it be so. Paul says of the Church, that it is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

For the thing required of us is not (as they maliciously pretend) to endure some grievous oppression in our body, but to be tortured in our consciences, and brought into bondage: in other words, robbed of the benefits of Christ’s blood.

So the abundant scriptural testimony of penitential practices is swept away by a grand conclusion of John Calvin that the Catholic Church only desires to torture consciences and keep people in bondage. It's amazing how he can transform a good thing (legitimate penance and fasting and abstinence) into evil at the drop of an acerbic, cynical, slanderous sentence. Calvin's malice and inability to exercise the slightest restraint where Catholics are concerned do not magically change biblical teaching into something it is not.

Let us omit this, however, as if it were irrelevant to the point. Do we think it a small matter that the Lord is deprived of his kingdom which he so strictly claims for himself? Now, he is deprived of it as often as he is worshipped with laws of human invention, since his will is to be sole legislator of his worship.

How is something "human invention" if it is thoroughly grounded in the Bible? Calvin can't get away with his inane unsubstantiated claims against Catholic tradition. If he is so convinced that Catholic practices are indefensible, then let him demonstrate that from Scripture: the thing both parties accept as authoritative. But he rarely does this. He needs to be called on it. It is the height of uncharity as well as extremely annoying for him to continue to do this over and over in the Institutes.

And lest any one should consider this as of small moment, let us hear how the Lord himself estimates it. “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among the people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29:13-14). And in another place, “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9).

That was directed towards corrupt Pharisaical traditions, not all Pharisaical tradition. Likewise, even if there was corruption among Catholic men, and in their spirits, in Calvin's time (as there assuredly was), that gives him no license to sweep all Catholic tradition away, just as Jesus didn't do so with the Pharisee's teaching and traditions (Matthew 23:2-3).

And, indeed, when the children of Israel polluted themselves with manifold idolatries, the cause of the whole evil is ascribed to that impure mixture caused by their disregarding the commandments of God, and framing new modes of worship. Accordingly, sacred history relates that the new inhabitants who had been brought by the king of Assyria from Babylon to inhabit Samaria were torn and destroyed by wild beasts, because they knew not the judgment or statutes of the God of that land (2 Kings 17:24-34). Though they had done nothing wrong in ceremonies, still their empty show could not have been approved by God. Meanwhile he ceased not to punish them for the violation of his worship by the introduction of fictions alien from his word. Hence it is afterwards said that, terrified by the punishment, they adopted the rites prescribed in the Law; but as they did not yet worship God purely, it is twice repeated that they feared him and feared not. Hence we infer that part of the reverence due to him consists in worshipping him simply in the way which he commands, without mingling any inventions of our own. And, accordingly, pious princes are repeatedly praised (2 Kings 22:1, &c.) for acting according to all his precepts, and not declining either to the right hand or the left. I go further: although there be no open manifestation of impiety in fictitious worship, it is strictly condemned by the Spirit, inasmuch as it is a departure from the command of God. The altar of Ahaz, a model of which had been brought from Damascus (2 Kings 16:10), might have seemed to give additional ornament to the temple, seeing it was his intention there to offer sacrifices to God only, and to do it more splendidly than at the first ancient altar: yet we see how the Spirit detests the audacious attempt, for no other reasons but because human inventions are in the worship of God impure corruptions. And the more clearly the will of God has been manifested to us, the less excusable is our petulance in attempting anything. Accordingly, the guilt of Manasses is aggravated by the circumstance of having erected a new altar at Jerusalem, of which the Lord said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name” (2 Kings 22:3, 4), because the authority of God was thereby professedly rejected.

All of this presupposes that Catholic worship is guilty of the same idolatries and blasphemies of the corrupt, compromised ancients. Needless to say, that remains to be proven. Calvin has not provided here anything that a Catholic could respond to at all. How does one rationally reply to an assertion of (in effect, and Calvin often makes it clear elsewhere) "your form of worship is filled with monstrosities and blasphemies and idolatries"? One wants to know the basis upon which such a negative judgment was made (particularly -- preferably -- from Scripture: the common premise and starting-point). Then there is something tangible and objective to interact with. But no such luxury can be found in this portion.

24. All human inventions in religion displeasing to God. Reason. Confirmed by an example.

Many wonder why God threatens so sternly that he will bring astonishment on the people who worship him with the commandments of men, and declares that it is in vain to worship him with the commandments of men. But if they would consider what it is in the matter of religion, that is, of heavenly wisdom, to depend on God alone, they would, at the same time, see that it is not on slight grounds the Lord abominates perverse service of this description, which is offered him at the caprice of the human will.

No one disagrees with this general observation.

For although there is some show of humility in the obedience of those who obey such laws in worshipping God, yet they are by no means humble, since they prescribe to him the very laws which they observe. This is the reason why Paul would have us so carefully to beware of being deceived by the traditions of men, and what is called ἐθελοθρησκεία, that is, voluntary worship, worship devised by men without sanction from God. Thus it is, indeed: we must be fools in regard to our own wisdom and all the wisdom of men, in order that we may allow him alone to be wise. This course is by no means observed by those who seek to approve themselves to him by paltry observances of man’s devising, and, as it were, against his will obtrude upon him a prevaricating obedience which is yielded to men.

And what, pray tell, are some (any!) of these abominable practices? Are we to be kept in the dark yet again? It reminds me of a certain presidential campaign, where little substance was offered. People could, therefore, project whatever they wanted onto the candidate and his views. If Calvin doesn't tell the reader what exactly he is talking about, then the ones given to a prior hostility towards Catholicism will insert whatever it is they wish, as the intended object of scorn. That's how propaganda works, but not, alas, reasoned argument.

This is the course which has been pursued for several ages, and within our own recollection, and is still pursued in the present day in those places in which the power of the creature is more than that of the Creator, where religion (if religion it deserves to be called) is polluted with more numerous, and more absurd superstitions, than ever Paganism was. For what could human sense produce but things carnal and fatuous, and savouring of their authors?

More of the same contentless rantings.

25. An argument founded on the examples of Samuel and Manoah. Answer.

When the patrons of superstition cloak them, by pretending that Samuel sacrificed in Ramath, and though he did so contrary to the Law, yet pleased God (l Sam 7:17), it is easy to answer, that he did not set up any second altar in opposition to the only true one; but, as the place for the Ark of the Covenant had not been fixed, he sacrificed in the town where he dwelt, as being the most convenient. It certainly never was the intention of the holy prophet to make any innovation in sacred things, in regard to which the Lord had so strictly forbidden addition or diminution.

Ah, good: an actual example for a change. Why is it impossible, then, that Catholic laws and required observances could be analogous things not inconsistent with the Bible and prior tradition? The Christian Church is not a static, immovable thing; as if it never grows and develops. It does do that because it is a living body: the Body of Christ. Just as bodies develop and grow and become more complex over time, so does the Church: a Body, too.

The case of Manoah I consider to have been extraordinary and special. He, though a private man, offered sacrifice to God, and did it not without approbation, because he did it not from a rash movement of his own mind, but by divine inspiration (Judges 13:19). How much God abominates all the devices of men in his worship, we have a striking proof in the case of one not inferior to Manoah—viz. Gideon, whose ephod brought ruin not only on himself and his family, but on the whole people (Judges 8:27). In short, every adventitious invention, by which men desire to worship God, is nothing else than a pollution of true holiness.

That was rank idolatry. Calvin has not shown that the Catholic Mass: entirely centered on Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice, is the equivalent of that. This is often assumed by Calvin and His followers (largely because of the seeming inability to comprehend the nature and purpose of Catholic sacraments), but never demonstrated with any cogency or plausibility.

26. Argument that Christ wished such burdens to be borne. Answer.

Why then, they ask, did Christ say that the intolerable burdens, imposed by Scribes and Pharisees, were to be borne? (Mt. 23:3) Nay, rather, why did he say in another place that we were to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees? (Mt. 16:6) meaning by leaven, as the Evangelist Matthew explains it, whatever of human doctrine is mingled with the pure word of God. What can be plainer than that we are enjoined to shun and beware of their whole doctrine?

What is plain is that we are not to shun their whole doctrine, but only corruptions of it. What is so difficult to grasp about this? It is right in front of him: plain as day in Holy Scripture, yet Calvin sees only what he wants to see and ignores the rest, as if it isn't there at all.

From this it is most certain, that in the other passage our Lord never meant that the consciences of his people were to be harassed by the mere traditions of the Pharisees.

Not by man-made traditions; of course not. But the trick is to determine what are "man-made inventions" and what are not: what is harmonious with a scriptural worldview.

And the words themselves, unless when wrested, have no such meaning. Our Lord, indeed, beginning to inveigh against the manners of the Pharisees, first instructs his hearers simply, that though they saw nothing to follow in the lives of the Pharisees, they should not, however, cease to do what they verbally taught when they sat in the seat of Moses, that is, to expound the Law.


All he meant, therefore, was to guard the common people against being led by the bad example of their teachers to despise doctrine.

Likewise, Catholic hypocrites and manifest sinners do not entail rejecting much of Catholic doctrine. But Calvin does do that.

But as some are not at all moved by reason, and always require authority, I will quote a passage from Augustine, in which the very same thing is expressed. “The Lord’s sheepfold has persons set over it, of whom some are faithful, others hirelings. Those who are faithful are true shepherds; learn, however, that hirelings also are necessary. For many in the Church, pursuing temporal advantages, preach Christ, and the voice of Christ is heard by them, and the sheep follow not a hireling, but the shepherd by means of a hireling. Learn that hirelings were pointed out by the Lord himself. The Scribes and Pharisees, says he, sit in Moses’ seat; what they tell you, do, but what they do, do ye not. What is this but to say, Hear the voice of the shepherd by means of hirelings? Sitting in the chair, they teach the Law of God, and therefore God teaches by them; but if they choose to teach their own, hear not, do not.” Thus far Augustine. (August. in Joann. Tract. 46)

And we agree. So this is ultimately a red herring. We agree with much of Calvin's general reasoning about man-made inventions and traditions. We disagree that the Catholic Church is almost entirely corrupt, as he claims. And we reject the fallacious premises upon which he makes his sweeping negative conclusions about the Catholic Church.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Erasmus Was an Orthodox Catholic, Not a Liberal or Quasi-Protestant

Bust of Erasmus made by Hildo Krop in 1950, at Gouda

This claim seems to come up not infrequently. Perhaps Erasmus said a few unorthodox things here and there. I don't know. I haven''t read every word of his. But what I have found on this score confirms his orthodoxy. Here is an exchange on the Coming Home Network Board with Brian T., a member:

On another board, I and some others (including a Catholic) were discussing Erasmus. The others (including the Catholic) were basically saying that Erasmus wasn't Catholic because 1. he opposed those in authority, 2. he did not affirm the infallibility of the Pope, and 3. he had some doubts about the canonicity of certain books of the Bible. I maintained that he was Catholic, because he opposed the abuse/behavior of those in authority, not the authority itself, and that infallibility of the Pope and canonicity of the books of the Bible was not ecumenically affirmed until councils that occurred after his death (and that given his statements on adherence to the church, he would have submitted to the Church -- as Jerome did -- if he had lived to see those councils). Now, I'm no expert on Erasmus, but am I basically correct? Or do I have to go back and apologize?

Certainly I found Erasmus to be an orthodox Catholic and a valiant defender of the faith, in recently studying his exchanges with Luther. Show your friends this info:

Luther Meets His Match, Part I: Correspondence Between and Concerning Erasmus and Luther: 1517 to 1534

Part II: Luther's Relentless, Slanderous Insults of Erasmus in Bondage of the Will and Table-Talk

Part III: Erasmus' Hyperaspistes (1526): Luther's Extreme Dogmatism (To Disagree With Luther is to be Damned)

Part IV: Erasmus' Hyperaspistes (1526): The Rebellious and Anti-Traditional Elements of Luther's Revolt

Part V: Erasmus' Hyperaspistes (1526): Excoriation of Luther's Ubiquitous Personal Insults and Calumnies

Part VI: Erasmus' Hyperaspistes (1526): Sola Scriptura & Perspicuity (Total Clarity) of Scripture Critiqued

Part VII: Erasmus' Hyperaspistes (1526): Luther's Dissembling, Hypocrisy, Arrogance, Inflammatory Rhetoric, Etc.

Somewhere in these papers, I recall Erasmus saying that he always intended to uphold the teaching and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. This is one reason he was horrified by Luther's rhetoric and the whole Protestant revolt: because he was at heart a traditionalist. He could criticize hypocrisy and corruption in the Church without throwing out its doctrines, as Luther and other Protestants did. I think you're essentially right and they are wrong.

Thanks Dave, I will be going through these links, not just for Erasmus information in general, but also as part of my ongoing study of what really went on during the Reformation. As for Erasmus himself, another source is The Life and Letters of Erasmus, compiled by Froude in the 1800s. Here are some of the things Erasmus said as recorded in some of his letters in that book (I did not find these myself, I collected these as a result of a Google search):

"As to the Eucharist, let the old opinion stand till a council has provided a new revelation. The Eucharist is only adored so far as Christ is supposed to be present there as God. The human nature is not adored, but the Divine nature, which is Omnipresent. The thing to be corrected is the abuse of the administration." (Life and Letters of Erasmus, p. 345)

"Such problems may be discussed among the learned. For the vulgar it is enough to believe that the real body and blood of our Lord are actually present." (ibid., p. 386)

"From the time when I was a child I have been a devoted worshipper of St. Anne. I composed a hymn to her when I was young, and the hymn I now send to you, another Anne. I send to you, besides, a collection of prayers to the Holy Virgin. They are not spells to charm the moon out of the sky, but they will bring down out of Heaven her who brought forth the Sun of Righteousness. She is easy to approach. (ibid., p. 86)"

"I have sought to save the dignity of the Roman Pontiff, the honour of Catholic theology, and the welfare of Christendom." (ibid., p. 262)

"I have not deviated in what I have written one hair's breadth from the Church's teaching." (ibid., p. 162)

"I am not so mad as to fly in the face of the Vicar of Christ." (ibid., pp. 271-272)

"The Holy See needs no support from such a worm as I am, but I shall declare that I mean to stand by it." (ibid., p. 270)

"The Pope's authority as Christ's Vicar must be upheld." (ibid., p. 275)

"You may assure yourself that Erasmus has been, and always will be, a faithful subject of the Holy See." (ibid., p. 279)

"The Lutherans alternately courted me and menaced me. For all this, I did not move a finger's breadth from the teaching of the Roman Church." (ibid., p. 340)

"I will bear anything before I forsake the Church." (ibid., p. 355)

"But never will I be tempted or exasperated into deserting the true communion.... I will not forsake the Church myself, I would forfeit life and reputation sooner.... Doubtless I have wished that popes and bishops and cardinals were more like the apostles, but never in thought have I desired those offices be abolished. There may be arguments about the Real Presence, but I will never believe the Christ would have allowed the Church to remain so long in such an error (if error it be) as to worship a wafer for God." (ibid., p. 365)

"they sing the old song. Erasmus laughs at the saints, despises the sacraments, denies the faith, is against clerical celibacy, monks' vows, and human institutions. Erasmus paved the way for Luther. So they gabble; and it is all lies." (ibid., p. 421)

Also, from Protestant historian Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, vol. 6:

Here it is enough to say that Erasmus desired a reformation by gradual education and gentle persuasion within the limits of the old Church system. . . . He and Luther never met, and he emphatically disavowed all responsibility for Luther’s course and declared he had had no time to read Luther’s books. . . .
Erasmus never intended to separate from Rome any more than his English friends, John Colet and Thomas More. He declared he had never departed from the judgment of the Church, nor could he. "Her consent is so important to me that I would agree with the Arians and Pelagians if the Church should approve what they taught." This he wrote in 1526 after the open feud with Luther in the controversy over the freedom of the will.

§ 69. Reuchlin and Erasmus.)