Friday, March 24, 2006

Calvin in Dialog With Catholic Apologists

Ever wonder if John Calvin had a face to face debate with Catholic apologists? Did Calvin simply sit locked up in his study engaging in written debate?

This is an excerpt from the introduction of David King's book Holy Scripture, Vol. 1 An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura. Everyone should get this book. David King's work on the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura is the clearest, most articulate exposistion of this crucial subject .

On one occasion, Peter Viret, Farel and Calvin participated in a formal disputation 'between Roman and Reformed churchmen, for the purpose of facilitating the entrance of the canton of Vaud into the evangelical alliance at Lausanne in October of 1536, the same year that saw the publication of Calvin's first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. It was organized by the Bernese, a Protestant constituency.

Farel and Viret were invited to present the case for the cause of reform. Viret was already in Lausanne, and Farel brought with him from Geneva a young rector, John Calvin. Farel offered ten articles (now referred to as the Lausanne Articles) in a sermon which laid out the substance and structure of the discussion. Exchange and debate ensued, and for some three days,
both Farel and Viret found the proceedings very difficult. In his biographicalsketch of Calvin, Emanuel Stickelberger writes of the event:

"For three days Calvin was silent. As often as Farel nodded to him he shook his head. And in the evening he answered the reproaches by saying, 'You and Viret know well how to answer all questions. Why should I interfere? Farel wrung his hands, 'It is a shame that you have so much insight andknowledge and at the same time so much shyness.'"

However, on day four (October 5th), the opposition made a carefully prepared speech in which they charged the Reformers of holding Augustine and other ancient Church fathers in contempt, particularly with respect to the real presence in the Lord's Supper. Farel glanced at Viret, and Viret back at Farel. Farel was about to reply, but before he could speak, the young rector was on his feet, his gaze fixed on the face of the accuser and said:

"Honor to the Holy Church Fathers: he among us who does not know them better than you, let him beware lest he mention their names. Too bad that you are not more thoroughly read in them, otherwise certain references could be of benefit to you."

Taking command of the debate, Calvin continued:

"But the reproach which you have made concerning the holy doctors of antiquity constrains me to say one word to remonstrate briefly how wrongly and groundlessly you accuse us in this connection! You charge us with condemning and wholly rejecting them, adding the reason that it is because we feel them contrary and hostile to our cause. As for condemning, we should not at
all refuse to be judged by the whole world as not only audacious but beyond measure arrogant, if we held such servants of God in so great contempt, as you allege, as to deem them fools. If it be so, we should not at all take the trouble to read them and to use the help of their teaching when it serves and as occasion offers. So that those who make parade of according them great
reverence often do not hold them in such great honour as we; nor do they eign to occupy their time reading their writings as we willingly do. This could be proved, not to you, but to anyone willing to take a little more trouble.

But we have always held them to belong to the number of those to whom such obedience is not due, and whose authority we will not exalt, as in any way to debase the dignity of the Word of our Lord, to which alone is due complete obedience in the Church of Jesus Christ."

Alister McGrath notes that it was at this point that Calvin 'turned the tide of the debate.'Without the aid of notes or manuscripts, Calvin quoted from memory the Scripture and the early Church fathers, complete with references. On this momentous occasion, he succeeded in devastating the
opposition. He quoted Cyprian, that Christ should be obeyed before all. He expounded the views of Tertullian, and added the testimony of Chrysostom (or the anonymous author) from the unfinished treatment of Matthew, the 11th homily 'about the middle,' referencing as well Augustine's 23rd epistle 'near the end.' He advanced the testimony of Augustine from his book against Adimantus the Manichean 'about the middle,' from his comments on the 98th Psalm, and from one of his homilies on the Gospel of John, around the 8th or 9th section, I cannot recall exactly which,' etc. Thus he argued, and all by heart! He challenged with:

"The whole world is easily able to understand with what audacity you reproach us with being contrary to the ancient doctors. Certainly if you had seen some of their pages, you would not have been so foolhardy as to pass judgment as you have done, not having seen the evidence, as the above witnesses present it. And one could cite others besides. But I content myself with
those that can be reached readily without using great subtlety in citing them

He concluded by saying:

"If I have satisfied you about the falseness of your objections, and in my view you ought to be manifestly content, I advise and beseech you to charge us no longer with contradicting the ancient doctors in this matter with whom we are in fact in such accord; nor with corrupting Scripture at our pleasure, when constrained by such vital reasons we interpret it on the true analogy of faith; nor with glossing it on our own testimony, when we suggest no gloss
which is not itself expressed in it

Having completed his extemporaneous discourse, Calvin sat down, and a hushed silence fell on all present. Even those who understood very little of what had been said sensed that the direction of the debate had shifted.

There was not a single word of rebuttal. 'No one wanted to expose himself, not even Mimard [who made the charge] or Blancherose, the spokesman.' History records that in the moments following, a Franciscan friar, Jean Tandy—noted as a capable preacher who had denounced the Reformers from his pulpit—spoke, his words filled with emotion:

"It seems to me that the sin against the Spirit which the Scriptures speak of is the stubbornness which rebels against manifest truth. In accordance with that which I have heard, I confess to be guilty, because of ignorance I have lived in error and I have spread the wrong teaching. I ask God's pardon for everything I have said and done against His honor; and ask the pardon of all
of you people for the offense which I gave with my preaching up until now. I defrock myself henceforth to follow Christ and His pure doctrine alone...''

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