Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hey Reformers: Got Miracles? If Not, You Were Not Called By God

... So said Roman Catholic writer Francis de Sales (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622).

I  came across this de Sales argument while listening to a CTC podcast of, you guessed it, a conversion story. In this conversion story, a former Mid-America Reformed Seminary alumni recounted his journey across the Tiber. I happen to know a little bit about this seminary. I'm fairly sure this convert was provided with a good Reformed education, including solid material against Rome's claims. That's why I find it odd he was persuaded this particular argument from de Sales had merit.

During the interview both he and his wife mentioned de Sales book a number of times. This short mp3 clip highlights their basic point. The basic thrust of what they said was that de Sales asked who sent the Reformers?  Where did their authority come from? If God really raised up the Reformers, where are their miracles to prove they were sent from God? Here's what de Sales says:

First, I say then that no one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles: for, I pray you, where should we be if this pretext of extraordinary mission was to be accepted without proof? Would it not be a cloak for all sorts of reveries? Arius, Marcion, Montanus, Messalius — could they not be received into this dignity of reformers, by swearing the same oath?

Never was any one extraordinarily sent unless he brought this letter of credit from the divine Majesty. Moses was sent immediately by God to govern the people of Israel. He wished to know his name who sent him; when he had learnt the admirable name of God, he asked for signs and patents of his commission: God so far found this request good that he gave him the grace of three sorts of prodigies and marvels, which were, so to speak, three attestations in three different languages, of the charge which he gave him, in order that any one who did not understand one might understand another. If then they allege extraordinary mission, let them show us some extraordinary works, otherwise we are not obliged to believe them. In truth Moses clearly shows the necessity of this proof for him who would speak extraordinarily: for having to beg from God the gift of eloquence, he only asks it after having the power of miracles; showing that it is more necessary to have authority to speak than to have readiness in speaking.

The mission of S. John Baptist, though it was not altogether extraordinary, — was it not authenticated by his conception, his nativity, and even by that miraculous life of his, to which our Lord gave such excellent testimony? But as to the Apostles, — who does not know the miracles they did and the great number of them? Their handkerchiefs, their shadow, served for the prompt healing of the sick and driving away of the devils: by the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done amongst the people (Acts xix. V.); and that this was in confirmation of their preaching S. Mark declares quite explicitly in the last words of his Gospel, and S. Paul to the Hebrews (ii. 4). How then shall those who in our age would allege an extraordinary mission excuse and relieve themselves of this proof of their mission? What privilege have they greater than an Apostolic, a Mosaic? What shall I say more. If our sovereign Master, consubstantial with the Father, having a mission so authentic that it comprises the communication of the same essence, if he himself, I say, who is the living source of all Ecclesiastical mission, has not chosen to dispense himself from this proof of miracles, what reason is there that these new ministers should be believed on their mere word? Our Lord very often alleges his mission to give credit to his words: — As my Father hath sent me I also send you (John xx. 21); My doctrine is not mine, hut of him that sent me (ibid. vii. 1 6); You doth know me, and you know thence I am; and I am not come of myself (ibid. 28). But also, to give authority to his mission, he brings forward his miracles, and attests that if he had not done among the Jews works which no other man had done, they would not have sinned in not believing him. And elsewhere he says to them: Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? Otherwise believe for the works themselves (ibid. xiv. 11, 12). He then who would be so rash as to boast of extraordinary mission without immediately producing miracles, deserves to be taken for an impostor. Now it is a fact that neither the first nor the last ministers have worked a single miracle: therefore they have no extraordinary mission.
1. I'm a bit surprised this particular argument had so much weight for these recent Roman Catholic converts. Based on the criteria of miracle = "sent by God", there are a fair amount of Pentecostal folks that are more than willing to claim they have the credentials required. I would be curious as to why these recent converts didn't join up with the people in this video. But the choice of who can substantiate their message with an alleged miracle doesn't begin and end with Pentecostals because even non-Christian religions claim miracles, so these recent converts could've picked a non-Christian faith to join. The speculative response I can hear in reply is such are not either real miracles or are miracles worked by Satan. Well, how would someone, based on de Sales criteria, determine that? Well, I guess an official guide would need to determine which are are (or not) real and God-sent messages accompanied by miracles.   Guess who claims to be able to pick which miracles are real miracles? Why that would be the Roman Catholic Church.  Even if the Reformers had miracles to accompany their message, the Roman church would have to officially say such was the case. In other words, one has to assume the truth of Rome previous to evaluating any sort of "miracle" offered.

2. Here's an ironic point. Here is the Bull of Canonization of St. Francis de Sales (Rerum Omnium Perturbationem) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Promulgated on January 26, 1923. Guess who, according to the Roman Catholic Church, was sent by God? Why, it was none other than Francis de Sales:
The solemn commemoration last year of the third centenary of the canonization of five great saints--Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, Teresa of Jesus, and Isidore the Farmer-- helped greatly, Venerable Brothers, toward reawakening among the faithful a love for the Christian life. We are now happily called upon to celebrate the Third Centenary of the entrance into heaven of another great saint, one who was remarkable not only for the sublime holiness of life which he achieved but also for the wisdom with which he directed souls in the ways of sanctity. This saint was no less a person than Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Universal Church. Like those brilliant examples of Christian perfection and wisdom to whom We have just referred, he seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the Reformation. It is in these heresies that we discover the beginnings of that apostasy of mankind from the Church, the sad and disastrous effects of which are deplored, even to the present hour, by every fair mind. What is more, it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission.
Now if you're thinking what I'm thinking, you're wondering exactly what miracle accompanied de Sales to prove he was especially sent by God for his special mission.  Well, if you skim through the Bull of Canonization, you'll find all sorts of tidbits about his life and ministry, but nothing all that extraordinary like healing a leper or raising the dead. In other words, there weren't any extraordinary miracles that prove he was sent especially by God of a very special mission. He sort of did stuff like... the early Reformers (he wrote books, ministered, and talked to people, sometimes at great peril). The only thing that proves he was sent especially by God for a very special mission is... the Roman Catholic Church.

3. I certainly can appreciate that the above quoted excerpt from de Sales relied heavily on Scripture. Here's another writer speaking about miracles from the scripture based on an exposition of Matthew 7:22-23 (On that day many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.”)
The chief interpretation here is that He is talking about false prophecies and miracles, as He speaks in Matthew 24:24: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 St. Paul says that the Antichrist will come “with all sorts of pretended powers and signs and wonders and with all wicked deception for unrighteousness, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” So it is certain that false signs will happen in Christendom and that the false Christians will look upon them as true and genuine signs. This has really been happening in the papacy, though in Turkey, too, there are many such priests and special saints. You can read about this in the books and legends, especially in what the monks have written. They are all crawling with miracles, though they were really nothing but lies and rascalities. How they have made fools of the people nowadays with all those pilgrimages to the Grym Valley, to the Oak, or to Trier! I myself have seen some monks who were abominable rascals and reckless men, but who expelled the devil and played with him as if he were a child.
Who could recount all the rascality and devilish sorcery they have been practicing under the holy name of Christ, Mary, the holy cross, or St. Cyprian? The monks have been practicing all this mightily, and the whole world has fallen for it, so that no one even dares to peep against it. No pope or bishop ever preached against it, but they all helped it along. If anyone opposed it, he was violently beaten down and crushed. A short time ago Bishop Ernest of Saxony tore down one of these devil’s chapels. But the evil outcome was that it made him ill, and he was only too happy to rebuild it. This sorcery has helped to introduce and confirm things like purgatory, Masses for the dead, the worship of all the saints, pilgrimages, monasteries, churches, and chapels. Many have even prophesied about the future, like Lichtenberg and others. All this has happened through the devil: to substantiate his abominations and his lies, to cast a spell over the people, and to hold them captive in error so that none of them could run away from him.
It is a minor matter for the devil to let himself be expelled even by an evil fellow, if he chooses, and yet to remain unexpelled. By this abominable deception he possesses and traps the people even more completely. Being a clever and experienced spirit, he can also guess at future events. Usually he makes fools of the people with his prophecies, by juggling them in such a way that they can be interpreted to mean various things; whichever way it comes out, he has hit it right. He used to do this long ago through his heathen priests. Then the people go crazy with excitement: “Surely God is dwelling here! You can see and touch the miracles and signs!” They cannot figure out that the devil is doing it to deceive and seduce the people. The fools do not remember that Christ clearly foretold all this and faithfully warned us against it, personally and through His apostles. But this had to be the outcome, and it serves us right for despising the Word of God and for not being concerned about losing Christ and accepting the signs of the devil. For the devil it was a lot of fun, by which he had the complete control over Christendom that he sought.
Once we have seen this and experienced all too often what great damage the devil has done through these lying spirits and false signs, it should bring us to our senses. We should not imitate our predecessors in neglecting Christ’s Word and letting it be spoken in vain, so that we do not end up the way they did. This sermon or prophecy was written as a warning. Unfortunately it comes too late for our predecessors, but early enough for us if we heed it. Then we will not let ourselves be diverted by their claims of the signs and wonders that Mary and other saints have done, nor by the skillful way they throw dust into our eyes to lead us away from the Word. Since we hear this warning that these false signs have to happen, we shall be smart enough not to believe in any mere sign.
When He discussed these miracles in Matthew 24, He warned them faithfully and seriously (Matt. 24:25): “Lo, I have told you beforehand”; as if He wanted to say: “Beware, and cling to My warning, for otherwise you will certainly be seduced. You have My Word, so that you know what the will of My Father is. Contrast these two. Here you have My teaching, which tells you how to live and act. There you see the signs that contradict this teaching.” He wants you to draw this conclusion: “Since I see such wonderful signs over there, while over here I have the teaching as well as the warning, I shall first examine the implication of the signs. I shall test them where they ought to be tested, as to whether they serve to strengthen my faith in the Word: that Christ died for me; that through Him I may obtain piety and salvation in the sight of God; and that I should carry out my station and pay faithful attention to it. I may discover the contrary, that by this they want to strengthen and confirm their own stuff and teach me to run to this or that saint who does so many signs and miracles every day, or to crawl into a hood because this is such a holy order. This would mean being led away from Christ, from my church, pulpit, Baptism, and the Sacrament, and from my station and the works demanded of me—all things with which I should remain. Therefore I refuse to listen or to know any of this though an angel were to come from heaven (Gal. 1:8) and raise the dead before my very eyes. Christ has taught and warned me: ‘Hold on to My Word, pulpit, and Sacrament. Where these are there you will find Me. Stay there, for you do not need to go running or looking any farther. I will never come any nearer to you than where My Gospel, Baptism, and ministry are; through them I come into your heart and talk to you.’ He also says: ‘Be a father or a mother, a prince or a subject, a master or a servant. Remain in your station, where you hear Me speak, where I Myself am present. You silly men, why go running to wood and stone, where no Word of God is preached? Why stare with your eyes wide open at the devil’s signs, as if Christ were somewhere where His Word is not?’ ”
You see, this is the way to beat back the papists, who come crowding around with their “customs, fathers, councils, and so many signs and miracles,” by which they try to substantiate their cause. Just to give them a short answer: “All right, let us contrast the two. Here I have Christ’s Word; of this I am certain, and it has been powerfully substantiated throughout the world. You are showing me, by contrast, your teaching and your signs, which point me to rosaries, pilgrimages, the worship of saints, Masses, monkery, and other special and self-chosen works. There is nothing here about Christ, or about faith, Baptism, and the Sacrament, or about obedience and the good works which Christ teaches me to practice within my station, in my relations with my neighbor. Instead, there is the exact opposite. Hence these cannot be genuine signs, but both the teaching and the signs are the devil’s deception.” This way we could easily recognize and judge all false signs and say: “Let the signs come and go, I do not care, even if you raised the dead before my very eyes. All of this can deceive me, but the Word of God does not deceive me.” The devil can make fools of people and cast a spell over them, so that he makes a man seem dead for a while and then brings him back to consciousness, as if he were raised from the dead. Or he can damage your eye or some other part of your body and then restore it to health, so that you imagine that it was done by a miracle. So God decrees that even genuine miracles happen as a punishment for those who do not pay attention to the truth, as St. Paul says (2 Thess. 2:9–12), and as a warning for the others. People are going to such extremes in their ingratitude and contempt for His Word that wrath is not a sufficient punishment. If the world stands much longer, this will happen to us, too, for sinning so gravely that it has to deteriorate into all sorts of errors and signs.
Because the world simply refuses to listen and wants to despise the Word, yearning for something different, He will send it enough to seduce it into the abyss of all error. This is what happened when nothing else was being preached and taught in all the churches, monasteries, and schools, and all the books were smeared up with these lying signs. The only reason for this was the fact that these signs had taken place—as though it had not been proclaimed often enough that this was going to happen and that the people would be seduced by it, so that even the elect would scarcely be rescued from the error (Matt. 24:24). It serves those people right for so wantonly letting themselves be seduced and refusing to heed this warning. He gave the Word on how people should believe and live, and in addition He confirmed it with plenty of signs. He intends this to be enough, to let it go at that, and to do nothing else. Yet they insist on setting up a different and new teaching and better stations, contrary to the Word of God and the genuine miracles.
Therefore Christ says now: “I will not heed them though they boast: ‘Lord, did we not do many mighty works in Your name?’ I will pronounce a sentence upon them which reads: ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.’ ” “How so, dear Lord? After all, the signs and wonders are there, and no one can deny it!” He will say: “Yes, but why have you neglected My Word, which was confirmed by My miracles, setting up something else about which I know nothing, governing the world according to your own ideas, and following these? Since you have despised My Word and have not done My Father’s will, I refuse to know you or to have any grace for you.” They do not pay attention to this on earth nowadays, and they suppose that they will be right next to God. They will find out, and all too suddenly!
So the right interpretation of this text is that He is talking about the miracles which the false teachers perform to confirm their teaching. These He refuses to recognize, on the basis either of their signs or of their prophesying. In this connection, there is a more subtle argument—I do not know whether it belongs here—that God occasionally lets genuine signs take place through wicked people and that God is acting through them. So Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesied (John 11:50). And Balaam delivered a most beautiful sermon about Christ; Moses himself says that the Holy Spirit entered into him (Num. 24:2) and that he had to prophesy against his will, as Caiaphas did also. Nor can it be denied that as an apostle of Christ, Judas performed many signs, just as the other apostles and disciples did. What shall we say to this?
St. John himself gives the answer when he says about Caiaphas (John 11:51): “Being high priest that year, he prophesied.” It can happen that because such a person is in a public office or in the government, he prophesies or does miracles and accomplishes a great deal of good, bringing many people to God. Still he may not be a pious person himself but may be going to the devil. A preacher occupies a public station and is an official person; correctly considered, such a person performs the greatest works, signs, and wonders that take place on earth. Through his office, through the Word and the Sacrament that he administers to you, he brings you to faith, rescues you from the power of the devil and from eternal death, and leads you to eternal life in heaven. This far surpasses all outward signs and wonders. Nevertheless he himself may be an unbelieving and wicked man.
In this issue, therefore, you must always pay attention to the Word of God and guide yourself according to it, not according to the personality. You heard earlier about the signs that take place in order to substantiate something different from the Word of God; about these there is nothing in Scripture. But there are signs which apply to something that God has spoken and substantiated. So the prophecy of the high priest Caiaphas announced that with His death Christ would redeem the world. This was a genuine and precious prophecy, though his motive was venomous and wicked. Although the prophet Balaam was a villain, he prophesied truly as a prophet about the people of God and about Christ; God was speaking through him. Now, if a preacher correctly administers his office and performs signs by its power, he should be listened to. But if he would like to get off the track and go some different way, to establish something different and apart from his office, he would no longer be a genuine prophet but a false one. If the apostle Judas preached and did miracles—though he belonged to the devil, as Christ says (John 6:70)—he did so by the power of the apostolic office, to confirm Christ so that the people would believe in Him. On this basis you judge everyone who occupies an office in Christendom. Not all those who occupy an office and who preach are Christians, or pious people. God does not ask about that. The person may be anything he pleases; but the office is right and good nevertheless, since it does not belong to man but to God Himself. So Caiaphas prophesies, not as Caiaphas, a murderer and a scoundrel, but as a high priest. So the minister or preacher baptizes you and brings you to eternal life, not as Mr. John Pommer, but as a minister. God lets this happen in order to honor and establish the office. Since Judas is in the right public office, the one that Christ has ordained, it is the office that is being honored in him, not the person.
So it is in secular affairs, too, as Solomon says (Prov. 16:10): “Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king”; that is, everything that the government orders is right, and God confirms it. When it performs its office of judging criminals and punishing them, therefore, this is God’s judgment, which He speaks up in heaven and which He wants to be carried out—the same action that is forbidden otherwise, apart from the office. So Scripture makes everyone in the sacred office a prophet or a foreteller, though in his own person he may well be a villain or a tyrant. As Solomon says again (Prov. 8:15): “By Me kings reign”; that is: “Their law and judgment are My law and judgment, along with everything they do according to their office, if they rule properly.” Nevertheless the majority of them in the world are great villains underneath, who have no qualms about abusing the law and their own authority. But when they keep within the limits of their office and do what the law demands, this is all God’s business. Bringing this down to another level: It is as when a prince or a lord gives a command to a servant or sends out his representatives, you listen to them and honor them, though they may be rascals, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of their lord, whose office and command they bring along with them.
Now, since God does this in the secular sphere, He will lay even more emphasis upon it in the spiritual sphere, to make His office and ministry productive and powerful. As we have said, when a minister preaches or baptizes, this is nothing but a miracle, inasmuch as he lets the Gospel and Baptism remain valid regardless of whether he is pious or wicked. And if, as a non-Christian, he does not have the treasure himself, still the one who accepts the Word and believes receives the treasure. Now, if such signs and miracles take place through the office of the ministry, redeeming souls from sin, death, and the devil, how much more can tiny, outward miracles that do not help the soul take place in the physical sphere!
It is necessary here to distinguish between the two things, the office and the person. Because one man is pious and twenty are wicked, you must not reject the office on account of the person, as usually happens. You should investigate whether the tendency and purpose of the office and the miracle is to praise and confirm the doctrine of faith in Christ and whether they harmonize with what He has spoken, commanded, and instituted. If you see that this is so, then you may say: “This sermon is right, though the person may be a good-for-nothing. I will accept the sign, but I will ask no questions about the person.” If it is not so, then you must not accept it or believe it, regardless of how great the sign may be or how saintly and precious the person may be. There are also many bishops, preachers, and others in office who imagine that this entitles them to God’s special favor personally. As I have said above, this is a mistake. It will not help on the Last Day for them to boast and say: “Lord, we did many mighty works in Your name.” God did not give them the power to do this on account of their person but on account of their office; He did not do these things for their sakes personally but for the sake of validating their office.
This applies to people in public office, through whom signs and wonders take place. Some of them are pious and some wicked, but this neither detracts from the office nor adds to it. But what do you say about those who do miracles and foretell the future though they are not in office? In Luke 9:49, 50 we read about some who did miracles though they were not Christ’s disciples. The apostles informed Christ of this and said: “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow You.” But He answered: “Do not forbid him; for he who is not against us is for us.” He was an individual person, whom Christ had not installed into the office, and yet He says that they should not forbid him, adding the reason (Mark 9:39): “No one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon after to preach evil about Me.”
Answer: It is true, as I have said, that God does not let any signs take place through wicked men unless they are in public office, since God does not grant signs for the sake of their person but of their office. But where genuine signs take place through an individual person, such a person must certainly be pious, as are those who have a special revelation through dreams or visions. But such signs must be aimed at praising Christ and advancing the Gospel. So you have two kinds of signs that are good and legitimate: first, those that are performed by pious persons who are Christians; secondly, those that are performed by evil persons who occupy an office and teach correctly. We should always be guided by this certain standard, which should be applied to every kind of person, whether pious or impious, in office or out of office: Do the signs aim at praising Christ and advancing your faith? If you notice that they are directing you somewhere else, to pilgrimages or to prayers to saints or to the deliverance of souls from purgatory, in other words, to a dependence on your own works and the creation of a righteousness of your own, then you must say: “If you did every possible miracle for me, so that I could see it and touch it, I still would not believe you. For Christ has given me adequate warning about that.”
God Himself set up this rule through Moses (Deut. 13:1–3): “If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, and ‘Let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams.” He also indicated the final cause by which you can recognize them and proceed correctly: If they try to make you institute a different worship, that is, to forsake the single pure doctrine and to start something different alongside it, then you should not believe, though it were snowing miracles. He Himself interprets it further and says (Deut. 13:3): “For the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.” It is as if He wanted to say: “He wants to try you out, to see how firmly you hold to the teaching that has already been established and is in force.”
In other words, the rule is this: Regardless of their size and number, no wonders or signs are to be accepted contrary to established teaching. We have God’s commandment; He has commanded from heaven (Matt. 17:5): “Listen to Him, Christ is the only one to whom you should listen.” In addition we have this warning, that false prophets will come and do great signs, but that they are all on the wrong track, away from Christ and toward something different. The only preventive is to have a good grasp of the doctrine and to keep it before your eyes continually. You can evaluate everything on this basis: Is this what the Gospel and the Creed teaches, which you pray every day, saying: “I believe in Christ alone, who died for me,” or is it something different? We have had adequate warning, if anyone is willing to heed it. But it does not make much of an impression on the great masses any more than it did before. I am convinced that if someone were to arise here today and perform just one sign, whole crowds would fall for it. That is how the crazy mob behaves. If someone pulls out something new in front of them and makes them stare, they forsake everything, the Word and the doctrine, and go gaping after that. And you can shout yourself to death against it. So they used to let such coarse and obvious lies and brazen fraud make fools of them and lead them around by the nose, following any rascal who arose with a lie about a new relic, new pilgrimages, and the like. The source of this is the shameful curiosity and boredom of our flesh and blood, as well as the devil himself, so that signs and wonders, especially the false ones, always get more of a following than the genuine ones. No one sees or cares that Christ and His apostles and others did miracles. But so soon as someone expels a demon, that beats all. All right, anyone who refuses to take a warning and wants to be seduced, dare not blame us.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:271-280). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

4. Oh by the way, for the convert that needs a miracle and looks for that sort of stuff: Here's Saint Luther's legacy of post-life miracles. See this article by Robert Scribner, Incombustible Luther: The Image of the Reformer in Early Modern Germany. Scribner documents the way that many turned Luther into a saint after his death. Stories circulated that paintings of Luther refused to burn (Luther's special saint miracle was his incombustibility. I'm more or less a functional cessationalist, so I tend to yawn at any alleged miracle.

There certainly are more arguments against the "must have a miracle to prove you've been called by God" notion. The ones above were tapped out quickly. One thing though that I need to add, it certainly is true that miracles accompanied many of those in the Scripture that were given revelation from God.  I have in mind here the argumentation that Richard Gaffin uses in his book, Perspectives on Pentecost (which is probably one of the best books on the gifts and miracles). The miracles certainly proved the divine message of the Biblical authors. Keep in mind though, the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.), were not receiving new revelation from God. They weren't adding books to the Bible. They were testifying to what was in the Bible. The bottom line is that de Sales argumentation assumes something the Reformers were not doing, and then says their work was not valid. This is a typical Roman Catholic type of argument that assumes their rules are the rules. 


James Swan said...

By the way, there certainly are more arguments against the "must have a miracle to prove you've been called by God" notion. The ones above were tapped out quickly. One thing though that I need to add, it certainly is true that miracles accompanied many of those in the Scripture that were given revelation from God. I have in mind here the argumentation that Richard Gaffin uses in his book, Perspectives on Pentecost (which is probably one of the best books on the gifts and miracles). The miracles certainly proved the divine message of the Biblical authors. Keep in mind though, the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.), were not receiving new revelation from God. They weren't adding books to the Bible. They were testifying to what was in the Bible. The bottom line is that DeSales argumentation assumes something the Reformers were not doing, and then says their work was not valid. This is a typical Roman Catholic type of argument that assumes their rules are the rules.

Jason Stewart said...

Dear James,

Please don't miss De Sales's main pastoral concern for his readers. He's asking why they believed individuals with no divine credentials other than a personal claim that God had opened their eyes to the true message of the Bible. That's what resonated with me and my wife; not the fact that the reformers didn't perform miracles.


- Jason Stewart

Pete Holter said...

Hi James!

I think that it is fair for Francis to expect miracles in the case of John Calvin since Calvin rejected communion with the already existing Church of Christ. Repudiating what came before, physically and doctrinally disassociating yourself from this existing communion, and providing your own new framework for moving forward within this disassociated communion is not to reform something, but is an attempt to start something new. It is an attempt to found a new church in opposition to the Church that Jesus founded. Authentic reform can only come from within.

With love in Christ,

twinwithtwins said...


You said, "They weren't adding books to the Bible”.

Just the opposite, they took out whole books and excerpts from the Holy Scriptures. When I learned that as a Protestant, I felt robbed.

James Swan said...

Please don't miss De Sales's main pastoral concern for his readers.He's asking why they believed individuals with no divine credentials other than a personal claim that God had opened their eyes to the true message of the Bible. That's what resonated with me and my wife; not the fact that the reformers didn't perform miracles.


Actually, I'm going by what you and your wife stated in your interview, and what you and your wife (and the interviewer)highlighted from DeSales. All three of you pointed out the part about miracles.

The debate about being "sent" is another matter, and we can deal with that as well at some point. First, let's lay this one to rest: the idea that the Reformers needed miracles to validate their ministry is simply bogus. It is a bogus way to argue, not to mention fraught with double standards. It assumes a Roman Catholic paradigm to be valid.

Listen back to the clip I extracted. The interviewer asks, "Where are their papers?" Your wife in agreement states back, "right, where are their miracles?" You, a few minutes later state, "where are their papers? If God sent them, where are their miracles?"

I'm well aware of the type of education you received, and probably most of the men you studied under. Could you with a straight face, look Dr. Venema, Dr. Beach, or Rev. Strange in their eyes and ask them seriously where the miracles of the Reformers are? Jason, for whatever valuable point you think DeSales is making, this aspect of it is bogus.

I'm not trying to "unconvert" you (as you tried to do to your friend, as mentioned in the interview). Frankly, believe whatever you want. I'm simply pointing out a factual and logical issue: DeSales is making a bogus point.

Thanks for stopping by. I plan on re-posting a version of this entry on the aomin blog.

James Swan said...

James, You said, "They weren't adding books to the Bible”.Just the opposite, they took out whole books and excerpts from the Holy Scriptures. When I learned that as a Protestant, I felt robbed.

Different issue- your bait will sit on the hook. I've been through canon issues on this blog since I started it years ago. If you'd like to comment on the DeSales argument, do so. If not, the folks on the Catholic Answers boards quibble over the canon daily.

James Swan said...

I think that it is fair for Francis to expect miracles in the case of John Calvin


This seems a lot like your personal interpretation of Roman Catholicism.

Rejecting something requires a miracle?

Jason Stewart said...


The argument De Sales makes from the premise of divine mission is two-fold: 1. an ambassador of God must be sent by the Church (mediate sending); or, 2. an ambassador of God must have his ministry validated by direct divine intervention via miracles a la the apostles of Christ (immediate sending). The symmetry of his argument is upset if you fixate only on the miracle component.

I've just listened to the clip you’ve posted and it’s clear that in the interview I didn’t merely emphasize the lack of the miraculous in the reformers' mission. Following De Sales, I asked, “If God sent them, where are their papers [read mediate sending]? Where are their miracles, if it’s an immediate sending? If he sent them through the Church, then why are they rejecting the Church?”

My guess is the miraculous element jumped out at you more than the other because it was new to you as you’ve already mentioned in your original post.

James Swan said...

I'm not exactly sure what the difference is between twinwithtwins and Jason Stewart.

First, I'll start with the last thing you said. I've been well aware of the argument about the "miraculous element". This topic in regards to Romanism has been covered on this blog before, at least 5 years ago (I can find the post if you're interested). On the other hand, I don't recall ever reading DeSales on this point (though I don't have total recall of everything I've read or written).

I disagree with you that the symmetry is upset. There is no logical reason why the verification of the miraculous can't be discussed without the former point.
Then again, it's Romanism that sets the argument anyway- it's your beginning presupposition that Rome is the true Church, so you get to decide how a ministry is validated. That is, your conclusion is inherent in your premises.

I'll gladly discuss the inherent contradictions and double standards that your argument implies, but I'll not do so until you deal with what I've stated already. I made 5 specific points above (I could've made more).

My guess is, one of the arguments that swayed you was the "sending" (you said as much in your interview). Once you accepted the Roman premise, the 2nd point just came along for the ride without you scrutinizing it.

At least explain to me what miracle validated DeSales as one especially sent by God for a special mission (as per Pope Pius XI).

James Swan said...

Jason, double comment fixed. Note: you should be able to delete your own comments as whoever you are logged in as. Use the little symbol after the posting date.


Jason Stewart said...

At least explain to me what miracle validated DeSales as one especially sent by God for a special mission (as per Pope Pius XI).

I see Pope Pius XI marveling at God’s providence in the whole matter of De Sales’s ecclesial ministry. He is accenting the fruitful labors the man had among Protestant converts. He was the right fit for the task. That’s all take from the quote.

James Swan said...

DeSales says, "no one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles." Pope Pius XI says, "[DeSales] seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission." Jason says,

"I see Pope Pius XI marveling at God’s providence in the whole matter of De Sales’s ecclesial ministry. He is accenting the fruitful labors the man had among Protestant converts. He was the right fit for the task. That’s all take from the quote."

I don't see any of this as consistent, at all. This sort of thing gets compounded even more when some of Rome's current defenders claim to be "called by God to do apologetics." You folks simply assume the infallible authority of the Roman Church, then pick and choose what you need to in order to defend her, whether consistent or not.

James Swan said...

twinwithtwins said...James, You said, "They weren't adding books to the Bible”. Just the opposite, they took out whole books and excerpts from the Holy Scriptures. When I learned that as a Protestant, I felt robbed.

This comment was either from Jason or his wife. I had assumed it was simply a drive-by from an anonymous Roman Catholic.

Quite frankly, the comment is anachronistic. Even some of the best Roman theologians at Trent argued against the inclusion of the deuterocanonicals.

Pete Holter said...

Good morning James!

Why should I agree with John Calvin when he says that he is “perfectly certain that the ministry of John was the very same as that which was afterwards delegated to the apostles. For the different hands by which baptism is administered do not make it a different baptism, but sameness of doctrine proves it to be the same” (Institutes, Bk. 4, Ch. 15.7)? And when he says that the fathers of Trent “vent[ed] their bile… in vain” (Antidote to Canon 1 on Baptism) when they condemned the opinion that “the baptism of John had the same force as the baptism of Christ”? Why agree with Calvin against Trent? Calvin tells me not to “be perplexed because ancient writers labour to distinguish the one from the other,” but I am most perplexed and disturbed by this dismissal. Why agree with Calvin against Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, etc.? A miracle would help. :)

Augustine noted that “the Church increased from its beginning at Jerusalem, and from there it spread into Africa, not by transferring itself there, but by growing there” (Letter 129, 3). But Calvin’s rejection of the Church resulted in such an unprophesied transference. When Jesus inaugurated His religion through His apostles, He bore miraculous witness to their mission. If someone comes along after Jesus and tries to start a new mission in opposition to the one that He Himself started, then I think it’s fair to expect a miraculous validation for this mission.

In Christ,

James Swan said...

Hi Peter,

In regard to the baptism issue, if I recall correctly (and you can certainly correct me if I'm wrong), Trent would curse the position of Calvin that the baptism and John and that of the apostles is the same. Isn't it correct that those John baptized, according to your church, had to be re-baptized because they didn't receive baptismal grace?

I think Calvin is most certainly on to how to figure out truth when he states,

"Therefore, let no one be troubled by the attempt of ancient writers to differentiate the one thing from the other. We ought not so to value their authority as to let it shake the certainty of Scripture. For who would rather listen to Chrysostom denying that forgiveness of sins was included in John’s baptism than to Luke asserting to the contrary that John the Baptist preached repentance unto forgiveness of sins [Luke 3:3]?

The miracles you require for Calvin, really should rather be required by the Roman church to prove her interpretation here against that which Luke 3:3 states.

A few things to keep in mind:

The baptism of John was instituted by God (Matt. 21:25; John 1:33)

John's baptism was connected with a radical life change (Luke 1:1-17; John 1:20-30)

John's baptism stood in sacramental relation to the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 3:7-8; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3)

John's baptism used water.

The above points weren't mine, I followed Berkhof. He points out that John's baptism had some differences, but they are essentially identical.

As to relying on the unanimous testimony of the Fathers, the problem is, that magic works only sometimes. You can take a look at the extended section from Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary that I quoted earlier this week on Galatians 2.

Here's the bottom line: Calvin isn't adding revelation to the canon of Scripture. He doesn't need a miracle to confirm his interpretation of the Bible. If that's your paradigm, then you'll need to be consistent and apply it across the board to not only Calvin, but to every Roman Catholic interpretation of the Scriptures.

Suppose some Roman Catholic who wants women to be priests based on an interpretation of the Bible performs a miracle... what do you do then? Suppose a gay priest who wants gay rights recognized based on his interpretation of the Bible performs a miracle, what then?

The whole "confirmed by a miracle" paradigm is fraught with danger. The quicker you folks dump this outdated argument, the better.

James Swan said...

By the way, apologies to all for at times not presenting the name "de Sales" in it's proper form. Some folks nitpick this sort of typo.

Pete Holter said...

Thanks for the reply, James. I’m writing this because I want to see you at Mass on Sunday!

The Catholic Church does not teach that the baptism of John the Baptist did not bestow the forgiveness of sins. But the Church at least distinguishes between the Baptism of John and the Baptism of Christ and asserts that the latter is of greater efficacy. Choosing to follow Chrysostom’s (and Augustine’s, and Jerome’s, etc.) interpretation of Luke 3:3 is permissible, but it’s not dogmatic. And Chrysostom’s interpretation is certainly a good one. He thinks that Luke has the ultimate end of John’s baptism in view when he says “for the remission of sins”:

“[H]ow says Luke, that ‘he came into the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins’? And yet it had not remission, but this gift pertained unto the baptism that was given afterwards; … he adds, ‘for remission,’ as though he said, ‘For this end he exhorted them to confess and repent of their sins; not that they should be punished, but that they might more easily receive the subsequent remission. For had they not condemned themselves, they could not have sought after His grace; and not seeking, they could not have obtained remission.’ Thus that baptism led the way for this” (Homily 10.2 on Matthew).

I think that the differences we find between the two baptisms are more substantial than Calvin allowed. For example, John said that “I baptize with water,” but “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 3:16), which shows John distinguishing his own baptism from Christ’s and admitting at the same time that Christ Himself was not baptizing through his (John’s) baptism. John 4:1-2 helps to accentuate this point when we see that “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John,” and that “Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples.” Once again we see that Jesus did not baptize through John, but only through His disciples. And it’s not that Jesus was baptizing 50 disciples for every 10 that John baptized, so that they ended up with a collective pool of 60 disciples; rather, the disciples of John and the disciples of Christ are two different sets of people (Matthew 9:14, Luke 11:1, etc.). Hence, the disciples of John were baptized by Paul into Christ even though they had already been baptized by John (cf. Acts 19).

Acts 19 is important. To galvanize his position of the sameness of the two baptisms, Calvin did not want to have Acts 19 serve as an illustration of a second baptism, and he thought that Acts 19 was the key text that caused the “ancient writers” to err (Institutes, 4.15.8; you’ll notice that he builds his case for the sameness of the two baptisms first, and only then comes back to offer his interpretation of Acts 19). But baptism “in the Name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5) is shown by the book of Acts to have been a water baptism (cf. Acts 8:16, 38; 10:47-48). And so we might turn Calvin’s objection back upon himself: who would rather listen to Calvin denying that the baptism performed by Paul in Acts 19:5 was a water baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus than to Luke making it plain for us that baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus is in fact a water baptism?

Pete Holter said...

Here is Jerome in agreement with Chrysostom:

“[L]isten to the teaching of Scripture: the baptism of John did not so much consist in the forgiveness of sins as in being a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, that is, for a future remission, which was to follow through the sanctification of Christ. […] But if John, as he himself confessed, did not baptize with the Spirit, it follows that he did not forgive sins either, for no man has his sins remitted without the Holy Ghost. Or if you contentiously argue that, because the baptism of John was from heaven, therefore sins were forgiven by it, show me what more there is for us to get in Christ’s baptism. Because it forgives sins, it releases from Gehenna. Because it releases from Gehenna, it is perfect. But no baptism can be called perfect except that which depends on the cross and resurrection of Christ. Thus, although John himself said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease,’ in your perverse scrupulosity you give more than is due to the baptism of the servant, and destroy that of the master to which you leave no more than to the other” (Jerome, Against the Luciferians, 7).

From our point of view, we see Calvin joining with the Luciferians in destroying the baptism of our Lord.

Here, too, is Augustine in agreement with Chrysostom, while at the same time displaying the tolerance of the Catholic Church for others who believe that John’s baptism did in fact remit sins:

“I ask, therefore, if sins were remitted by the baptism of John, what more could the baptism of Christ confer on those whom the Apostle Paul desired to be baptized with the baptism of Christ after they had received the baptism of John? But if sins were not remitted by the baptism of John, were those men in the days of Cyprian better than John, of whom he says himself that they ‘used to seize on estates by treacherous frauds, and increase their gains by accumulated usuries,’ through whose, administration of baptism the remission of sins was yet conferred? Or was it because they were contained within the unity of the Church? What then? Was John not contained within that unity, the friend of the Bridegroom, the preparer of the way of the Lord, the baptizer of the Lord Himself? Who will be mad enough to assert this? Wherefore, although my belief is that John so baptized with the water of repentance for the remission of sins, that those who were baptized by him received the expectation of the remission of their sins, the actual remission taking place in the baptism of the Lord,— just as the resurrection which is expected at the last day is fulfilled in hope in us, as the apostle says, that ‘He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:6); and again, ‘For we are saved by hope’ (Romans 8:24); or as again John himself, while he says, ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, for the remission of your sins’ (Matthew 3:11), yet says, on seeing our Lord, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29) — nevertheless I am not disposed to contend vehemently against any one who maintains that sins were remitted even in the baptism of John, but that some fuller sanctification was conferred by the baptism of Christ on those whom Paul ordered to be baptized anew (cf. Acts 19:3-5)” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk. 5, Ch. 10).

Pete Holter said...

John Calvin asserted that it was perfectly clear that the baptisms were the same, but Augustine said that just the opposite was “clear”: “this much still is clear, that the baptism of John and the baptism of Christ are two distinct and separate things, and that the former was expressly called the baptism of John, as is clear both from the answer of those men whose case you quoted, and from the words of our Lord Himself, when he says, ‘The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?’ But the latter is never called the baptism of Cæcilianus, or of Donatus, or of Augustin, or of Petilianus, but the baptism of Christ” (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Bk. 2, Ch. 37:88). In contradistinction with the possessive form being used when speaking of “John’s Baptism,” “None of the apostles said, ‘my baptism.’ Although there was one gospel of all, yet thou findest that they said, ‘my gospel’ (Romans 2:16, 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8): thou dost not find that they say, ‘my baptism’ ” (Tractate 5.9 on the Gospel of John).

Helping himself to conflate the two baptisms, John Calvin also said that “By ‘water and the Spirit,’ therefore, I simply understand the Spirit, which is water” (Institutes, 4.16.25); and that “I cannot bring myself to believe that Christ speaks of baptism” (Commentary on John 3:5). But the early Church was unanimous in seeing Christ’s Baptism in John 3:5, and John Calvin himself seems to have agreed that “no ancient writer can be quoted who gives a metaphorical meaning to the words” (Antidote to Canon 2 on Baptism; if am I reading him correctly, this seems to be what he’s conceding here). Why should I agree with John Calvin against the Council of Trent and the entire early Church? John Calvin himself was concerned—when discoursing on the Eucharist—to bring forward the witness of Augustine, “Lest any one should despise” what he was saying “as a novel invention” (Institutes, 4.17.21). And yet, here he is, doing just that. A miracle would help! :)

It’s not that John Calvin’s Scriptural interpretations are so appalling. And there’s nothing wrong with finding something new in the Scriptures. It’s the fact that his system of doctrine was propounded with pertinacious audacity to the disregard of maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). If John Calvin is going to break unity with the Church of Christ against the prayer of Jesus, then we should expect more than a brilliant mind and plausible exegesis before we become persuaded.

Pete Holter said...

In terms of unanimity, the Fathers were not unanimous on Galatians 2, so I’m not sure how this is an argument against those times when they are unanimous. But I do think that Augustine had the best summary of the incident:

“It was necessary for [Paul] to say this to Peter in front of everyone so that by Peter’s rebuke everyone might be put right. For it would not have been useful to correct in private an error that had done its harm in public. Here I might add that out of steadfastness and love Peter – to whom the Lord had said three times, ‘Do you love me? Feed my sheep’ (John 21: 15-17) – was entirely willing to endure this rebuke from a junior shepherd for the salvation of the flock. Moreover, it was in his rebuke that the one being rebuked proved the more admirable and difficult to imitate. For it is easy to see what you would correct in someone else and to proceed to do so by censure and criticism. It is not so easy to see what ought to be corrected in yourself and to be willing to be corrected even by yourself, let alone by another, and that a junior, and all this in front of everyone! Now this incident serves as a great example of humility, which is the most valuable Christian training, for by humility love is preserved. For nothing violates love more quickly than pride. And therefore the Lord did not say, ‘Take my yoke and learn from me, because I raise four-day-old corpses from the tomb and cast out all demons and diseases from people’s bodies’, and other such things, but rather, ‘Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart’ (Matt. 11: 29)” (Augustine, Commentary on Galatians).

That’s funny you mentioned that about de Sales. I was going to use his last name in my first comment, but then I got worried about which way to go on the capitalization issue, so I opted for “Francis.” Ha!

With love in Christ,

James Swan said...

A miracle would help! :)


I do appreciate that you took the time to expound on your personal opinion of the baptism of John the Baptist, your opinion of John Calvin, and your interpretation of a few of people from church history, and your interpretation of a few passages from the Bible. Since you posted your lengthy responses, I've gone through a number of Protestant sources on the baptism of John the Baptist to see what some of the better exegetes have stated. Since this issue is tangential to this post, I'm going to save it for the future. One interesting fact though, is I guess Luther doesn't need a miracle, because he believed the baptism of John was different.

You will notice though, out of all your lengthy comments, I extracted 4 words, "A miracle would help." I did so, of course, because that's the topic of this current post.

I think its safe to say I understand your view that you think anyone taking a theological position contrary to the corrupt Roman church of the 16th Century requires a miracle to validate any or all such things. What you haven't done though is establish this as Rome's official position, but rather, have substantiated it as your own opinion. You've got to also be careful that you don't fall to your own argument when its applied to your own worldview.

Then again, even if you were to establish your paradigm as Rome's official position, the discussion then shifts to the fact that I don't believe, at all, that Rome speaks for God, especially infallibly.

Pete Holter said...

By the way, welcome to the Church of Christ, Jason and Cindy! Let me know when you two end up on The Journey Home.

Oh, and also by the way, James, my wife found a way to watch EWTN through the Roku. So you can get rid of your cable service or whatever it was you were using. :)

James: “I don't believe, at all, that Rome speaks for God, especially infallibly.”

Thanks again for the reply!

I once asked TurretinFan what the biggest obstacle to Catholicism was for him, and for him it was the pope. Would you mind sharing your biggest obstacle? I need to pray for your guys!

Speaking of infallibility, what do you think of Pope Benedict’s assertion that papal infallibility “simply means that in Christianity, at any rate, as Catholics believe, there is a final decision making authority, that ultimately there can be binding decisions about essential issues and we can be certain that they correctly interpret the heritage of Christ. In one form or another, this authority is present in every Christian faith community, but it is not associated with the pope” (Salt of the Earth)”? And also that “[w]henever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts,” and that biblical “science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles” (Homily for the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, 5/7/2005).

“The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ… [and] his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. […] The Chair is—let us say it again—a symbol of the power of teaching, which is a power of obedience and service, so that the Word of God—the truth!—may shine out among us and show us the way of life” (Homily for the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, 5/7/2005). And Jesus’ promise made to Peter—that “ ‘the gates of the underworld,’ that is, the forces of evil, will not prevail”—only holds true “inasmuch as he is the faithful steward of Christ’s message” (Homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, 6/29/12).

With love in Christ,

Pete Holter said...

Since you posted your lengthy responses, I've gone through a number of Protestant sources on the baptism of John the Baptist to see what some of the better exegetes have stated. Since this issue is tangential to this post, I'm going to save it for the future.

Hey James!

I posted something more on this over at Catholic Answers Forums, in case you wanted to look it over before coming back to this topic in the future:

Also, if you were interested, I have posted previously on the Galatians 2 issue:

Happy Fourth!
In Christ,

James Swan said...

I once asked TurretinFan what the biggest obstacle to Catholicism was for him, and for him it was the pope. Would you mind sharing your biggest obstacle?

I have never been asked that before.

Ken said...

For me it is many things:
the Pope and the infallibility claim
the Marian dogmas and practices and piety and emphasis
praying in front of statues and icons and prayers to Mary and other dead saints
Indulgences and ex opere operato priestly powers
Trent, rejection of Sola Fide
Unam Sanctum, etc.

Pete Holter said...

Thanks, Ken!

I will pray for us on each of these points

And thanks for sharing that material from Augustine’s Enchiridion. I love having Augustine designated as our Doctor of Grace. In case you are interested, I’ve interacted with some of Augustine’s thoughts on predestination here:

In Christ,