Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Mega Churches of Post-Constantinian Rome

If you are repulsed by, or if you have a hard time understanding the phenomenon of TV preachers or mega-churches that seem to be built in the honor of a founder, keep in mind that nothing is new under the sun, and all of this happened at Rome a very long time ago.

Several weeks ago I had been writing about the time period following Constantine, The Murderer Pope Damasus, and the time when Roman Bishops became functionaries of the Roman (government) bureaucracy. Of course, this also became, one might say, a time of “building” for the church at Rome, as successive popes sought to aggrandize themselves by building monuments, er, cathedrals in their own honor. As Eamon Duffy notes:
They [bishops of Rome] set about [creating a Christian Rome] by building churches, converting the modest tituli (community church centres) into something grander, and creating new and more public foundations, though to begin with nothing that rivaled the great basilicas at the Lateran and St. Peter’s. Over the next hundred years their churches advanced into the city – Pope Mark’s (336) San Marco within a stone’s throw of the Capitol, Pope Liberius’ massive basilica on the Esquiline (now Santa Maria Maggiore), Pope Damasus’ Santa Anastasia at the foot of the Palatine, Pope Julius’ foundation on the site of the present Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Pudenziana near the Baths of Diocletian under Pope Anastasius (399-401), Santa Sabina among the patrician villas on the Aventine under Pope Celestine (422-32).

These churches were a mark of the upbeat confidence of post-Constantinian Christianity in Rome. The popes were potentates, and began to behave like it. Damasus perfectly embodied this growing grandeur. An urbane career cleric like his predecessor Liberius, at home in the wealthy salons of the city, he was also a ruthless power-broker, and he did not he did not hesitate to mobilize both the city police and [a hired mob of gravediggers with pickaxes] to back up his rule… (Duffy, 37:38).
Roman Catholics today like to tell us that “Christ is the head of the church,” but Pope Siricius (384-399), who was the successor of Damasus, “self-consciously … began to model their actions and style as Christian leaders on the procedures of the Roman state. … [Siricius responded to an inquiry from a neighboring bishop in Spain] in the form of a decretal, modeled directly on an imperial rescript, and like the rescripts, providing authoritative rulings which were designed to establish legal precedents on the issues concerned. Siricius commended the [inquiring] Bishop for consulting Rome ‘as to the head of your body’, and instructed to him to pass on ‘the salutary ordinances we have made’ to the bishops of all the surrounding provinces, for ‘no priest of the Lord is free to be ignorant of the statutes of the Apostolic See’” (Duffy 40).

Shotwell and Loomis go into somewhat greater detail:
We see that Siricius, in taking up, as he says, the responsibilities of Damasus, assumes the right to make ordinances for the metropolitans and clergy of the West and classes the statutes of the Apostolic See and the venerable canons of the councils together as laws of which no priest of the Lord may be ignorant. He is writing, one must note, for western churches only, as far as his explicit directions go, but his West includes Spaniards and Gauls and Carthaginians in provinces far beyond Italy.

The decretal itself is more than the instructions of a senior bishop to his junior colleagues on ways to remedy evils in congregations under their authority. In several of its provisions it goes behind the local bishop and metropolitan altogether and establishes relations by its own authority directly with the lesser clergy, monks and laity of these distant regions. The local bishop is for the moment merely the organ of communication between the chief shepherd and the sheep. All priests are to keep the rules or be “plucked from the solid, apostolic rock upon which Christ built the universal Church.” Offenders are “Deposed by authority of the Apostolic See from every ecclesiastical position which they have abused.” (Shotwell and Loomis, “The See of Peter,” New York: Columbia University Press, ©1927, 1955, 1991, pgs 699-700).
This is perhaps the earliest of these epistolae decretales on record. It was contemprary with the time that all that the Eastern bishops, at the council of Constantinople (381), had decreed that “appeals in the cases of bishops should be heard within the bishop’s own province,” as Duffy had said, “a direct rebuttal of Rome’s claim to be the final court of appeal in all such cases (34). The Eastern bishops had no concept at all that the Roman bishop had the right to interfere with or make laws in their regions.

Duffy notes that “the apostolic stability of Rome, its testimony to ancient truth, would now be imagined not simply as the handing on of the ancient paradosis, the tradition, but specifically in the form of lawgiving. Law became a major preoccupation of the Roman church, and the Pope was seen as the Church’s supreme lawgiver. As Pope Innocent I (401-417) wrote to the bishops of Africa, ‘it has been decreed by a divine, not a human authority, that whatever action is taken in any of the provinces, however distant or remote, it should not be brought to a conclusion before it comes to the knowledge of this see, so that every decision may be affirmed by our authority’” (Duffy 40). And of course, nepotism reigned.
Round the papal household there developed a whole clerical culture, staffed by men drawn often from the Roman aristocracy, intensely self-conscious and intensely proud of their own tradition – Jerome dubbed them ‘the senate’. Damasus himself was a product of this world, the son of a senior Roman priest who had himself founded a titulus church. Pope Boniface was the son of a Roman priest, Innocent I was the son of his predecessor as pope, Anastasius I (399-401), and had served his father as a deacon.
But probably the pinnacle of admixture between Roman imperial law and arrogance and usurpation of the nepotism system came in the person of “Pope Leo the Great," whom I hope to talk about in a future post.

29 comments:

Viisaus said...

I have seen claims that we could consider Damasus to have been the de facto "founder of papacy". Before him, there were only mere bishops of Rome.

http://the-orb.net/textbooks/westciv/papacy.html

"It can be no accident that Pope Damasus I (366-384) was first to claim that Rome's primacy rested solely on Peter, and was the first pope to refer to the Roman church as "the Apostolic See"."


Catholic Encyclopedia (1910 edition) itself seems to practically admit that Damasus was the first one to make this assertion:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04613a.htm

"The primacy of the Apostolic See, variously favoured in the time of Damasus by imperial acts and edicts, was strenuously maintained by this pope; among his notable utterances on this subject is the assertion (Mansi, Coll. Conc., VIII, 158) that the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Roman Church was based, not on the decrees of councils, but on the very words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18)."


This would explain why Julian the Apostate in his writings against Christianity did not say anything about the office of the pope, "the Chair of Peter" - which was such an inviting target for anti-Christian writers of later times! Damasus rose to his position only three years after Julian's death.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Is Duffy Catholic? And still alive?

John Bugay said...

Is Duffy Catholic? And still alive?

Here's info from his Wiki:

Eamon Duffy (born 9 February 1947, Dundalk[1]) is an Irish Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, and former President of Magdalene College.

He describes himself as a "cradle Catholic"[1] and specializes in 15th to 17th century religious history of Britain. He is also a member of the Pontifical Historical Commission.[2] His work has done much to overturn the popular image of late-medieval Catholicism in England as moribund, and instead presents it as a vibrant cultural force. On weekdays from 22 October to 2 November 2007, he presented the BBC Radio 4 series 10 Popes Who Shook the World[3] - those popes featured were Peter, Leo I, Gregory I, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Paul III, Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII, and John Paul II.

Professor Duffy is a fellow and former president of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

John Bugay said...

Viisaus, I think you are dead-on correct about Damasus. I think we all need to look further into this connection -- but someone like Robert Eno makes Damasus the pivot-point on which the papacy turns.

Tim Enloe said...

Duffy is right about the self-conscious modeling of Roman ecclesiastical government on the pattern of imperial government.

However, as Protestants, we must make sure not to allow this point to go to waste, because it is actually not quite as friendly to Catholicism as it might first appear.

It is true that in many quarters and in a general sort of way, the pope came to be seen as the supreme lawgiver of the Church (provided that we remember we are talking about the WESTERN Church).

Nevertheless, the Roman heritage of law and government is not entirely on the side of papal claims, for one must remember that that heritage is a mixed bag. The Empire, in which, thanks to Augustus, all power was effectively though not in name concentrated in one man, was a latecomer in Roman history, having been preceded by nearly 700 years of what we might call "republican constitutionalism."

There is much in the Roman heritage that is uncongenial to Catholic claims about papal supremacy. This is one reason that Calvin relies so heavily on Cicero in his own writings on government. Cicero was no friend of imperialism, and he represents the bulk of the Roman heritage of constitutional, limited government prior to Augustus.

This heritage may be seen even in the period of papal consolidation in the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, who wrote that the word "king" means (my paraphrase) "one who upholds the law, and if he does not uphold the law, the name king no longer belongs to him." This heritage never was stamped out by the imperialist papalist vision, and it poked its head up against that vision with increasing frequency throughout the central and high middle ages.

David Waltz said...

>>If you are repulsed by, or if you have a hard time understanding the phenomenon of TV preachers or mega-churches that seem to be built in the honor of a founder, keep in mind that nothing is new under the sun, and all of this happened at Rome a very long time ago.>>

And 16th century Geneva...

Ken Abbott said...

Well done, Mr. Waltz! That's a priceless satire of a shallow perspective on Calvin and the ecclesiastical situation in Geneva.

Viisaus said...

"I think we all need to look further into this connection -- but someone like Robert Eno makes Damasus the pivot-point on which the papacy turns."

I would be happy to hear some scholarly citations (from Eno or anyone else) about Damasus from you, J.B. :)

David Waltz said...

Mr. Abbott,

If perchance you could find it within yourself to refrain from venerating the esteemed "Pope of Geneva" for a few hours, perhaps you could read some impartial, objective, "honest" biographies of the man and his city:

Calvin - A Biography, Bernard Cottret

John Calvin - A Sixteenth Century Portrait, William J. Bouwsma

The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the time of Calvin, Philip E. Hughes

In the above books you will learn of the executions, beatings, imprisonments, banishments, book burnings, et al., of those who stood up against Calvin and the theocracy he helped to create.

I suspect all "honest" readers will agree with Dr. Philip Schaff's assessment of Calvin's/Beza's/Geneva's 'theory' of church and state:

==All Christian rulers have punished obstinate heretics. The œcumenical synods (from 325 to 787) were called and confirmed by emperors who punished the offenders. Whoever denies to the civil authority the right to restrain and punish pernicious errors against public worship undermines the authority of the Bible. He cites in confirmation passages from Luther, Melanchthon, Urbanus Rhegius, Brenz, Bucer, Capito, Bullinger, Musculus, and the Church of Geneva. He closes the argument as follows: "The duty of the civil authority in this matter is hedged about by these three regulations: (1) It must strictly confine itself to its own sphere, and not presume to define heresy; that belongs to the Church alone. (2) It must not pass judgment with regard to persons, advantages, and circumstances, but with pure regard to the honor of God. (3) It must proceed after quiet, regular examination of the heresy and mature consideration of all the circumstances, and inflict such punishment as will best secure the honor due to the divine Majesty and the peace and unity of the Church."

This theory, which differs little from the papal theory of intolerance, except in regard to the definition of heresy and the mode and degree of punishment, was accepted for a long time in the Reformed Churches with few dissenting voices; but, fortunately, there was no occasion for another capital punishment of heresy in the Church of Geneva after the burning of Servetus.== (History of the Church, Eerdmans 1981 reprint, 8.798 - bold emphasis mine.)

Constantine said...

In the above books you will learn of the executions, beatings, imprisonments, banishments, book burnings, et al., of those who stood up against Calvin and the theocracy he helped to create.

Actually, that claim may well be chronologically incorrect:

“One might easily draw the conclusion that Calvin was the tyrant of Geneva, but only if one pays no attention to dates. The city, for instance, had already decided to purify itself and adopt imperial law – including the death penalty for heretics – as its norm when Calvin was still many miles away, and in fact still a student. The old image of Calvin the tyrant is not at all in line with the facts.” John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life by H. J. Selderhuis (2009)

And again,

“Long before Calvin had come to Geneva, the people wanted the city to be characterized by Christian living. Toward that end Calvin was doing nothing but contributing to what the citizens of Geneva already wanted, assisting them in the creation of a city that was as Christian as possible.” Op. cit.

And it seems, Calvin had trouble standing “up against … the theocracy he helped to create.” January 1538 the Council of the Two Hundred in Geneva, in response to public pressure, rescinded the law barring people from the Lord’s Supper which Calvin had endorsed. In fact, it seems that Calvin was so powerless that he was actually banished from Geneva!

“It was actually a strange situation. Calvin instituted a confession to combat heresy, but ended up being accused of heresy himself. He instituted a church order to keep people from the table and, if need be, from the city, but ended up exiled from the city himself. For Calvin, however, this posed no problem.” Op. cit.

And Calvin’s influence in Geneva could not have been as strong as is usually suggested by our Catholic friends, because he was not even a citizen until four years before his death. “Until that time Calvin was officially a refugee with only a temporary residence permit.” Op. cit.

How a banished refugee could be totally responsible for 16th century Geneva in a manner suggested by the papists, is far, far from certain.

The intertwining of imperial and ecclesiastical power in Rome is very much more provable.

Just to get a few things straight.

Now back to the popes…..!

Peace.

David Waltz said...

Hi Constantine,

Thanks for responding. I have not read Selderhuius' contribution, but I have read the three I listed above, and all three take the chronology of Calvin's life quite seriously—have you read any/all of these works?

You posted the following selection from Selderhuius:

“One might easily draw the conclusion that Calvin was the tyrant of Geneva, but only if one pays no attention to dates. The city, for instance, had already decided to purify itself and adopt imperial law – including the death penalty for heretics – as its norm when Calvin was still many miles away, and in fact still a student. The old image of Calvin the tyrant is not at all in line with the facts.” John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life by H. J. Selderhuis (2009)

Me: True, but later on when capital punishment for heresy was being question by many Genevans, it was Calvin's rigorous defense that carried the day. Further, his sermons/theology concerning theocracy became the foundational building block for Geneva's constitution.

That Calvin was banished from Geneva is common knowledge, so too is the fact that the Genevans called for his return, and after his return, his authority was virtually unassailable.

Anyway, hope you can find the time to read the three tomes I suggested; I will order Selderhuius' work tomorrow...


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

ooops...sorry about the extra 'u' in Selderhuis...the Dutch (grin)

louis said...

"This theory, which differs little from the papal theory of intolerance, except in regard to the definition of heresy and the mode and degree of punishment"

That is a big exception.

Viisaus said...

Church historian Henry Milman writes that the main subject of the very first papal Decretal (issued by Siricius) was the forced clerical celibacy, thus beginning the process that Gregory VII would complete 700 years later:

http://www.archive.org/details/historylatinchri01milm

pp. 116-117, 119-120

"The pontificate of Damasus, with those of his two immediate successors, Siricius and Anastasius, is an epoch in the history of Latin Christianity, distinguished by the commencement of these great changes: — I. The progress towards sovereignty, at least over the Western Church: the steps thus made in advance will find their place in the general view of the Papal power on the accession of Innocent I. II. The rapidly increasing power of monasticism. III. The promulgation of a Latin version of the Scriptures, which became the religious code of the West, was received as of equal authority with the original Greek or Hebrew, and thus made the Western independent of the Eastern churches, superseded the original Scriptures for centuries in the greatest part of Christendom, operated powerfully on the growth of Latin Christian literature, contributed to establish Latin as the language of the Church, and still tends to maintain the unity with Rome of all nations whose languages have been chiefly formed from the Latin.
...

The pontificate of Siricius is memorable for the first authentic Decretal, the first letter of the Bishop of Rome, which became a law to the Western Church, and the foundation of the vast system of ecclesiastical jurisprudence. It betrays the Roman tendency to harden into inflexible statute that which was left before to usage, opinion, or feeling. The East enacted creeds, the West discipline.

The Decree of Siricius was addressed to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona.^ Himerius had written before the death of Damasus to consult the Bishop of Rome on certain doubtful points of usage, the validity of heretical baptism, the treatment of apostates, of religious persons guilty of incontinence, the steps which the clergy were to pass through to the higher ranks, and the great question of all, the celibacy of the clergy.
...

The all-important article was on the marriage of the clergy; this was peremptorily interdicted, as by an immutable ordinance, to all priests and deacons. This law, while it implied the ascendancy of monastic opinions, showed likewise that there was a large part of the clergy who could only be controlled into celibacy by law."

Viisaus said...

Church historian Henry Milman writes that co-incidentally, the subject of the very first papal Decretal (issued by Siricius) was the forced clerical celibacy, thus beginning the process that Gregory VII would complete 700 years later:

http://www.archive.org/details/historylatinchri01milm

pp. 116-117

"The pontificate of Damasus, with those of his two immediate successors, Siricius and Anastasius, is an epoch in the history of Latin Christianity, distinguished by the commencement of these great changes: — I. The progress towards sovereignty, at least over the Western Church: the steps thus made in advance will find their place in the general view of the Papal power on the accession of Innocent I. II. The rapidly increasing power of monasticism. III. The promulgation of a Latin version of the Scriptures, which became the religious code of the West, was received as of equal authority with the original Greek or Hebrew, and thus made the Western independent of the Eastern churches, superseded the original Scriptures for centuries in the greatest part of Christendom, operated powerfully on the growth of Latin Christian literature, contributed to establish Latin as the language of the Church, and still tends to maintain the unity with Rome of all nations whose languages have been chiefly formed from the Latin."

Viisaus said...

pp. 119-120

"The pontificate of Siricius is memorable for the first authentic Decretal, the first letter of the Bishop of Rome, which became a law to the Western Church, and the foundation of the vast system of ecclesiastical jurisprudence. It betrays the Roman tendency to harden into inflexible statute that which was left before to usage, opinion, or feeling. The East enacted creeds, the West discipline.

The Decree of Siricius was addressed to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona.^ Himerius had written before the death of Damasus to consult the Bishop of Rome on certain doubtful points of usage, the validity of heretical baptism, the treatment of apostates, of religious persons guilty of incontinence, the steps which the clergy were to pass through to the higher ranks, and the great question of all, the celibacy of the clergy.
...

The all-important article was on the marriage of the clergy; this was peremptorily interdicted, as by an immutable ordinance, to all priests and deacons. This law, while it implied the ascendancy of monastic opinions, showed likewise that there was a large part of the clergy who could only be controlled into celibacy by law."

Constantine said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the recommendations on Calvin. I’m curious if you have read Robert Godfrey’s recent offering? I didn’t see that on your list.

You wrote:

“That Calvin was banished from Geneva is common knowledge, so too is the fact that the Genevans called for his return, and after his return, his authority was virtually unassailable.”

All of which points to the fact, I think, that it really wasn’t Calvin that was in control. Selderhuis goes to some length to show the reservation Calvin had about ever going to Geneva. It seems he really didn’t like the place much and went only because he felt it was God’s calling.

Another ingredient in this recipe that we haven’t touched on is the local resistance that Calvin faced from “The Children of Geneva” – the established families there.

Let me quote Selderhuis once more:

It was Calvin who invented the Reformed consistory…The consistory was meant to be an independent ecclesiastical institution, but Calvin failed to have this realized for several reasons. First and principal among these was the constant collision between Calvin and the so-called Children of Geneva – the old families of Geneva, particularly the Berthelliers and the Favres – led by Ami Perrin, commissioner of the republic. Selderhuis, op.cit.

So Calvin failed to institute (pardon the pun!) a weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he was unable to implement the Consistory, he was banished from Geneva, he was forbidden to withhold the Lord’s Supper from those he deemed unworthy – but by some magic he was able to burn people at the stake. I simply don’t think the facts support that at all.

Next time I will bring up a papal practice that was contemporary to Calvin and which continued for 400 years after he died. That should make the case that one man – even if guilty as you charge him – simply couldn’t possess the institutional wickedness of more than two dozen consecutive popes.

And I think that is where John Bugay is taking us.

Peace.

Constantine said...

Now to bring the horse back ‘round the barn, we might, at the risk of stealing our host’s later thunder on the topic, draw some parallels with at least one who were roughly contemporary to Calvin.

Take, for example, Paul II. (We could find a couple closer to Calvin - Alexander VI and Paul III as two. But Alexander is already infamous and Paul III continued in the footsteps of Paul II.) As pope, he was necessarily head of both the civil and ecclesiastical power of the Papal States. Therefore, it’s interesting to note J N D Kelly’s the somewhat oblique reference, “He was a great promoter of carnivals, to the expense of which Jews were obliged to contribute.” (J N D Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes, p. 249)

But what of these carnivals?

After the Vatican archives were opened to the public, we have found some remarkable things about these papal “carnivals”. As one example, Professor David Kertzer of Brown University found this interesting:

Among the first historical references we have to such [pre-Lenten Carnival] rites is a description from 1466, when from the amusement of the Romans, in festivities sponsored by Pope Paul II, Jews were made to race naked through the streets of the city. A particularly evocative later account describes them: “Races were run on each of the eight days of the Carnival by horses, asses, and buffaloes, old men, lads, children, and Jews. Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for the spectators. They ran…amid Rome’s taunting shrieks of encouragement and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.” Two centuries later, these practices, now deemed indecorous and unbefitting the dignity of the Holy City, were stopped by Clement IX. In their place the Pope assessed a heavy tax on the Jews to help pay the costs of the city’s Carnival celebrations. Kertzer, David I. The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. P. 74

Winding the clock forward nearly 400 years! it seems that a plea was made to Pope Gregory XVI to stop this practice in 1836. His reply, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.”

Of course we can’t go in depth in a blog post, so I commend this book to your reading. Bringing this back to Mr. Bugay’s theme of the papal abuse of power, I would note that you will simply not find in Calvin, or any of the Reformers, the systematic long-standing abuse meted out by Rome. The Reformers, even if guilty simply didn’t live that long! But the fact that this went on for centuries and was supported by dozens of popes in succession – and in ways far worse than described here – and was the official teaching of Rome, should give one pause before offering support to this historically abusive and un-Christian institution.

I hope you’ll have a chance to study some of the recent, objective histories of Rome, David. They may be uncomfortable at first, but I’m sure they will be enlightening.

Peace.

Viisaus said...

This would really seem to fit the traditional Protestant prophetic interpretation of celibacy being a calling card of coming hypocritical apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1-3) - that already the very first "papal decretal" happened to decree the blatantly contra-Biblical doctrine of forced celibacy.

And should someone object that the RCC does not force ALL people to be celibate - well, according to RC dogma, the priesthood alone by itself would well qualify as "the church": non-celibate laymen are frankly a superfluous factor (except for the material maintenance of the church) as the priest can celebrate the Mass all alone by himself if necessary.

See here the full text of 385 AD decretal by Siricius:

http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Canon%20Law/Decretals/SiriciusDecretal.htm


Btw, here is online a classic 17th century treatise on the topic of The Apostasy of the Latter Times by a Cambridge scholar Joseph Mede.

Constantine said...

Hi David,

I'm taking a look at the Calvin biographies you recommend. I'm curious how you would prioritize them.

It seems that the Bouwsma offering is a psychological profile. One reviewer said that Calvin's “need for order” produced his doctrine of double predestination. Do you agree? If so, I may put that one off. I'm really not much interested in psychological speculation.

Cottret and McDonald's looks more interesting. However, the first reviewer says this, “Geneva had gone in for Reformed Protestantism long before he arrived there and Calvin's Geneva was far from the "theocracy" it is often caricatured as.” Another reviewer takes these authors to the woodshed for their careless selection of Calvin's works from which they write. What's your take?

The Hughes work I found at a local library and so I won't have any idea until I get eyes on it later this week. Would you read Cottret or Hughes first?

Thanks for the help, David.

Peace.

David Waltz said...
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David Waltz said...
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David Waltz said...
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David Waltz said...

Hello Constantine,

Thanks much for your responses over the weekend; you posted:

>>Thanks for the recommendations on Calvin. I’m curious if you have read Robert Godfrey’s recent offering? I didn’t see that on your list.>>

Me: I have not read Godfrey; and while I on the subject, I should probably have included McGrath's very interesting, The Life of John Calvin, in my list of recommendations—it is (IMHO) quite unique.

>>You wrote:

“That Calvin was banished from Geneva is common knowledge, so too is the fact that the Genevans called for his return, and after his return, his authority was virtually unassailable.”

>>All of which points to the fact, I think, that it really wasn’t Calvin that was in control. Selderhuis goes to some length to show the reservation Calvin had about ever going to Geneva. It seems he really didn’t like the place much and went only because he felt it was God’s calling.>>

Me: Calvin's first sojourn in Geneva was not a pleasant experience for him. But, he certainly learned from that experience, as well as the time he spent in Strasbourg (nearly three years, 1938-1941) before his return.

>>Another ingredient in this recipe that we haven’t touched on is the local resistance that Calvin faced from “The Children of Geneva” – the established families there.>>

Me: Indeed, has there ever been a period when church and state have not butted heads? Even the Papacy at the height of it's secular power still had to contend with monarchs, bankers, and ecclesiastical intrigue.

>>I'm taking a look at the Calvin biographies you recommend. I'm curious how you would prioritize them.

It seems that the Bouwsma offering is a psychological profile. One reviewer said that Calvin's “need for order” produced his doctrine of double predestination. Do you agree? If so, I may put that one off. I'm really not much interested in psychological speculation.>>

Me: First, I think most biographies offer "a psychological profile" of sorts—you cannot avoid this—as soon as you attempt interpret the 'whys' behind the history one is relating, you are dealing with the mind, so to speak.

Now, with that said, Bouwsma's work is the least chronological; it is more topical in nature.

>>Cottret and McDonald's looks more interesting. However, the first reviewer says this, “Geneva had gone in for Reformed Protestantism long before he arrived there and Calvin's Geneva was far from the "theocracy" it is often caricatured as.” Another reviewer takes these authors to the woodshed for their careless selection of Calvin's works from which they write. What's your take?>>

Me: Cottret's book the most 'traditional' biography of those I have recommended (including McGrath's), and by 'traditional', I mean the format of the book. As for the question of "careless selection", I was actually impressed with the over all balance of the book—the book is certainly not a polemical work, nor a book of veneration.

>>The Hughes work I found at a local library and so I won't have any idea until I get eyes on it later this week. Would you read Cottret or Hughes first?>>

Me: Cottret, for sure. And if you have not read Schaff's significant contribution to Calvin in the 8th volume of his famous "History...", I would highly recommend that you do so.

I like Hughes book, because apart from the introduction, it merely provides a wealth of historical records translated in English that cannot be found in other works.

Sincerely hope I have been of some assistance...


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Constantine,

I have attempted to respond to your weekend responses at least 4 times now, but alas, Blogger is not accepting my post/s (I am kinda glad it did not accept the first one, I noticed it had a major typo).

Anyway, if the posts have been trapped in Blogger's spam filter, hopefully one of the moderators can restore my last attempt.


Grace and peace,

David

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Only James Swan has access to the spam folder, which he checks roughly once a day. If you don't see your posts appear, contact him.

Constantine said...

Hi David,

That spam filter can be frustrating. And yes, I did get all four messages! Thanks for the response. Thanks, too, for the McGrath recommendation. It looks like McGrath fills in the cultural/historical background and I hope to get to that at some point.

Although I’m glad to go through this exercise with you, it seems that we should probably keep our original goal in mind. And that is, to either affirm or repudiate your earlier claim about “Calvin and the theocracy he helped to create.”

We have the Selderhuis material earlier noted. I would add to that, this snippet from Dr. Godfrey’s work (which I am still reading):

He (Calvin, in anticipation of his return to Geneva in 1541) had sent his revised church order, known as the “Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances,” to the city council and requested consideration of it. He did not make acceptance of his revisions a condition of his return.
Godfrey, Robert. “Pilgrim and Pastor” (2009).

The case continues to develop that Calvin was far from in charge and the he was more a creation of the Genevan environment than a creator of it.

It's interesting, too, that the Genevan "environment" - the harsh punishment for heretics - may have been the product of the Roman system as your quote from Schaff seems to affirm.

More later.

Peace.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Constantine,

Given the following that you posted...

>>Although I’m glad to go through this exercise with you, it seems that we should probably keep our original goal in mind. And that is, to either affirm or repudiate your earlier claim about “Calvin and the theocracy he helped to create.”>>

...it seems to me that you have forgotten what I actually wrote concerning Calvin, Geneva and theocracy; first, I briefly mentioned:

==And 16th century Geneva...==

And then in a subsequent post:

==In the above books you will learn of the executions, beatings, imprisonments, banishments, book burnings, et al., of those who stood up against Calvin and the theocracy he helped to create.==

Me: Notice that I have not yet written on the actual role the Genevans themselves played in the establish of the theocracy at Geneva, but rather, that Calvin "helped to create" it. Calvin (as well Beza and others), believed that civil government should be based on the Bible, and Calvin repeatedly appealed to the OT laws as a model to be used (Schaff clearly points this out, as well as Calvin himself in his own writings). Though Calvin's political power was not fully solidified until 1555, one should not think that he was without influence until then.

For the record, I do not disagree with anything you have so far cited from Selderhuis, for none of it speaks against what I have actually posted so far.

Anyway, if I have somehow been unclear, I apologize. I should probably consider typing up an extensive post on my position concerning Calvin, theocracy, the Genevans, and the period in question (thought it will probably be Friday before I can do so.)


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. Just now saw another typo in my previous post...1938-1941 should read 1538-1541—my editing 'skills' are deplorable!

Constantine said...

Hi David,

You wrote:

Calvin (as well Beza and others), believed that civil government should be based on the Bible, and Calvin repeatedly appealed to the OT laws as a model to be used (Schaff clearly points this out, as well as Calvin himself in his own writings).

Fair enough. But that was not peculiar to Calvin or Beza. I mentioned the book by Dr. Robert Godfrey on Calvin so let me let him address this:

“Since the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in the early fourth century, church and state in the ancient Roman world, in the Byzantine Empire, and in the medieval West had cooperated…with each other to create a Christian civilization.” Robert Godfrey, “John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor”, (2009)

What’s clear, in Calvin’s case, is that this union in Geneva was far, far less dangerous to the citizens than other Protestant states and especially those under Roman Catholic control.

“In fact, there were fewer executions for heresy in Geneva than in many parts of Europe.” Godfrey, op.cit.

It’s interesting that Calvin’s fortunes improved in 1555 precisely because French émigrés fled the persecution of Catholic France for the relative safety of Geneva, don’t you think?

David writes, further:

Though Calvin's political power was not fully solidified until 1555, one should not think that he was without influence until then.

True. But one should be very careful not to overstate his influence. Remember, his ideas had been clearly rejected by the city Council. As I wrote to you earlier,

So Calvin failed to institute (pardon the pun!) a weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he was unable to implement the Consistory, he was banished from Geneva, he was forbidden to withhold the Lord’s Supper from those he deemed unworthy – but by some magic he was able to burn people at the stake. I simply don’t think the facts support that at all.

And when we see that even the Ecclesiastical Ordinances he recommended upon his return to Geneva (1541) were delayed for several years, it’s pretty clear that Calvin was able to exercise only the influence the civil authority gave him – and not vice versa. In a rich twist of irony, the Servetus case makes exactly that point. Calvin pleaded for Servetus’s execution to be changed to a more humane type (i.e. beheading vs. burning) but the Council refused. (In a further twist of irony, the Council sent letters to all its European neighbors asking for their recommendation with regard to the matter and they all recommended burning. Calvin was the lone voice for leniency!) While not without influence, Calvin obviously did not have great influence. Not like the popes in the Papal States, as one contrast.

Let me make one last point about timing. If one were to take the stereotypically incorrect RC position of blaming Servetus on Calvin, then one is left to explain why Calvin’s power peaked not two years later. Servetus was executed in October 1553 and the elections of 1555 – which were favorable for Calvin’s cause – came only shortly thereafter. Apparently the Genevan political apparatus of the time was squarely in favor of Calvin. And if the Genevans were so squarely in favor of what was going on, why would modern Romanists be so upset?

One cannot, however, say the same about the Jews assessment of their enslavement in ghettos throughout the Papal States during – and extending far beyond – the same period.

So I think we will run into difficulties if we look at a late medieval European church through the lens of 21st century American culture. The union of church and state was the norm; the severity of punishment for certain religious offenses was justified on the basis of their threat to the civil order; Geneva was the least offensive of the bunch even as Calvin sought to make it more humane still.

Enough for now.

Peace to you, David.