I debated as to who to follow in my review of a recent Roman Catholic book on John Calvin. Calvin's order or that put forth by a Roman Catholic author. Common sense tells me to follow the order of argumentation set forth by Calvin, but since this review is on the analysis put forth by a Roman Catholic author, I'm going to journey through his book via his order. Unfortunately, this is like cooking pasta in a big bowl, then trying to organize each strand into a picture of the Mona Lisa. For instance, the very first snippet of analysis put forth by the author is directed toward the thirteenth point of a sixteen point extended argument from Calvin.
I'll begin where this Roman Catholic author begins. I'll note the title of his section, and provide the reference to The Institutes. To follow along, simply read the section of Calvin's Institutes noted. I'll be using both the Battles and Beveridge translations. For anyone time challenged, consult Analysis of the Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin (New Jersey: P and R Publishing, 1980). This text outlines Calvin's actual argument in each section.
1. The Catholic Church vs. the Bible?
This particular Roman Catholic author begins with an edit of IV, 8:13 and one sentence from IV, 17:48 ". . . the ministers of Satan, whose usual practice is to hold the Scriptures in derision, . . ."). He comments:
The Catholic Church doesn't create dogmas with utter disregard for Scripture (quite the contrary). Calvin fails to document what he charges. We make no such dichotomy. Calvin does because he thinks in "either/or" terms: for him, if there is true Church authority, this must somehow inexorably be opposed to Scripture in some essential fashion. It's simply not true.From his reading, the author sees Calvin positing the Roman church doesn't rely on Scripture when it creates dogma. Perhaps he has these key sentences from Calvin in view:
Their statement that the church cannot err bears on this point, and this is how they interpret it—inasmuch as the church is governed by the Spirit of God, it can proceed safely without the Word; no matter where it may go, it can think or speak only what is true; accordingly, if it should ordain anything beyond or apart from God’s Word, this must be taken as nothing but a sure oracle of God.And:
Now it is easy to conclude how wrongly our opponents act when they boast of the Holy Spirit solely to commend with his name strange doctrines foreign to God’s Word—while the Spirit wills to be conjoined with God’s Word by an indissoluble bond, and Christ professes this concerning him when he promises the Spirit to his church.Calvin's Argument
In IV, 8:13 Calvin argues against the claim that the church cannot err because it's governed by God's Spirit. Rome also claims the ability to ordain doctrine beyond what was set down in Scripture. Footnote #15 of the Battles translation documents this by appealing to Cochlaeus, De authoritate ecclesiae (1524) I. v, fo. C 1b; I. 6, fo. C 3b; De Castro, Adversus haereses I (1543, fo. 8 B-10 G). In the very next section (IV, 8:14) Calvin goes on to expand this by saying:
Here again they mutter that the church needed to add some things to the writings of the apostles, or that the apostles themselves afterward properly supplied through a living voice what they had not clearly enough taught. For, of course, Christ said to the apostles, “I have many things to say to you which you cannot bear now” [John 16:12]. These, they explain, are decrees which, apart from Scripture, have been accepted only by use and custom.Again, this is substantiated by footnote #17- Cochlaeus, op. cit., I. 4, fo. B 4a; I. 8, fo. E 2a; Eck, Enchiridion (1535), fo. 21ab. In Eck's Enchiridion we find the following statement:
Not only are those things expressly stated in the Scriptures or proved from them to be believed and kept (something the Lutherans are willing to do), but also it is necessary to believe and keep those things Holy Mother Church believes and observes. For not everything has been clearly handed down in the Sacred Scriptures, but very many have been left to the Church to determine (which is illumined and governed by the Holy Spirit, and on this account cannot wander from the path of truth). Hence the Savior said to his disciples [Jn 16:12f ]: "I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth." Therefore the Church observes in its rites and ceremonies many things, from the intimate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the tradition of the Apostles, and of the holy fathers, which even if not expressly stated in the Scriptures, yet it is wicked to depart from them or take exception to them. Indeed these things are most confirmed to them, and on that account are to be enforced and observed by all true evangelical and Pauline Christians (such do the Lutherans falsely boast themselves to be). "Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle" [2 Thess 2;14]. [Enchiridion of Commonplaces (Michigan: Baker Books, 1979), p.46].One finds this very issue (the contents of Scripture and Tradition) debated at the Council of Trent. Rome declared that the truth of God is found both in the Scriptures and in the Tradition of the church. James Boice points out,
A technical point of historical research concerning Trent sheds some interesting light on the matter. In the original draft of the fourth session of Trent the decree read that “the truths … are contained partly [partim] in Scripture and partly [partim] in the unwritten traditions.” But at a decisive point in the Council’s deliberations two priests, Nacchianti and Bonnucio rose in protest against the partim … partim formula. These men protested on the grounds that this view would destroy the uniqueness and sufficiency of Scripture. All we know from that point on is that the words partly … partly were removed from the text and replaced by the word and (et). Did this mean that the Council responded to the protest and perhaps left the relationship between Scripture and Tradition purposely ambiguous? Was the change stylistic, meaning that the Council still maintained two distinct sources of revelation? These questions are the focus of the current debate among Roman theologians. [“Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism.” The Foundations of Biblical Authority. James M. Boice, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980].It is a simple historical fact that those Roman theologians contemporary with the Reformers viewed God's truth also elsewhere than solely in Scripture. David Bagchi notes,
Luther's characteristic position was that no doctrine not found in Scripture can be enjoined as generally necessary for salvation. This view was universally condemned by Catholics, principally on two grounds that were themselves drawn from Scripture. First, Christ said much to his apostles that is not recorded in Scripture (John 21:25). This apostolic tradition was reputed to include such practices as praying toward the east and observing Sunday as the Christian sabbath, and such doctrines as the generation of the Son from the Father. Second, Christ told his apostles that they could not yet bear the whole truth and promised them the Holy Spirit, which would lead them into all truth (John 16:12-13).70 This was taken as a guarantee of the trustworthiness of established custom, consuetudo ecclesiae. [David Bagchi, Luther's Earliest Opponents (Minnieapolis: fortress Press, 1991), p. 163]And also:
The early canons of Gratian, especially Ecclesiasticarum, In his rebus, and Catholica, are clear that Scripture, apostolic tradition, and local and universal customs (provided that they contravene neither positive law nor the law of reason) have equal force. Apostolic tradition was, of course, a fixed body of instructions, the contents of which were well known from references to it made by the fathers. What local and universal customs embraced was, however, not so evident. Clearly they were less ancient than the apostolic traditions, but how ancient did a custom have to be for it to be traditional? The fact that many of the beliefs and practices the Romanists defended as traditional or customary were of recent date caused them little embarrassment. This must not surprise us, for their appeal was ultimately not to antiquity, nor to catholicity, but to the fact that the doctrine or discipline at issue belonged to that church to which Christ had promised the Spirit of truth. The process of being led into all truth was one that nullified all considerations of antiquity and universality, "for the Spirit blows not only where it will, but also when it will" [Ibid., p.166].Conclusion
Here we have clear truth that the Roman theologians of Calvin's day argued for a second vehicle of God's revealed truth outside of Scripture. This content was different than that contained in the Scripture. This is in fact how Rome's sixteenth century apologists argued against the Reformers, and this is the argument Calvin is responding to. Is the contemporary Roman author's analysis of Calvin accurate? No, he completely misses Calvin's argument, and the historical context in which the argument was made. Indeed, the Roman church today attempts to dress everything up with Scripture, but back then, Rome's apologists had no trouble stating God's truth was also outside of the Bible (ironically, even many of Rome's modern defenders say this). This is a perfect example of what Steve Hays stated:
[Calvin's Institutes] was written at a very different time and place. To correctly interpret Calvin, you’d need to know about his intellectual influences, the socioeconomic and political conditions of the day, the historical antecedents to his theological terminology, the identity of his theological opponents, and century. What may be common knowledge for someone living in the 16th Century is hardly common knowledge for someone living in the 21st Century.