Monday, May 20, 2013

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 5) Immaculate Conception

I've been intrigued by the alleged "Mariology" of the Reformers for years because of the argumentation of Roman Catholic apologists. I recently came across Wikipedia's John Calvin's views on Mary entry. I didn't get far into the entry before I came across a few facts that appeared odd. I'm going to work through the entry, time allowing. Previous entries are as follows:

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 1)

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 2)

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 3) Perpetual Virginity

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 4) Calvin Did Not Refer to Mary as "Mother of God"?

 Immaculate Conception
The wiki article states, "John Calvin did not accept the doctrine of immaculate conception, considering it conflicted with the aforementioned doctrines and with Romans 3:23 that all have sinned." Roman Catholic writer Peter Stravinskas in a published book states the opposite. Contrary to this, Stravinskas elsewhere states,
Did Calvin have anything specifically positive to say about Mary? Yes, he "commonly speaks of Mary as 'the holy Virgin' (and rarely as simply as 'Mary' preferring 'the Virgin', etc.)." Calvin "rarely depicts Mary expressly as a sinner" although he did object "to her specific exclusion from the reach of original sin by the Council of Trent." At Cana, for instance, Calvin considers the failing (sin) of Mary to have been her desire "to exceed humanity and to make herself an intermediary, which is to forget that grace is totally from God and at His disposal." Bouwsma recounts the charming story that "when Mary rebuked the boy Jesus for His truancy, Calvin apologized for her. 'The weariness of three days was in that complaint,' he explained." It seems that, often enough, Calvin went to particular lengths to assert that "Calvinists are not foes of Mary, but [that] they feel that they have given her true honor, whereas others have taken from God and given to Mary. Throughout Calvin's sermons on the Scriptures, there are occasional references to the dishonor rendered to Mary and to God by her various titles and by Roman theology."
What Stravinskas states above is from a few secondary sources: David Wright, Chosen By God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective (London: Marshall Pickering, 1989), p. 175; Thomas O'Meara, Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965) 133; William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p.123. What all these sources Stravinskas has strung together have in common is they point towards Calvin not being a supporter of Mary's immaculate conception.

Of these sources, the author that delves deeply into Calvin's view of this topic is Thomas O'Meara. He states, "There was no time in Calvin's life when he had any respect for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He found it unfounded, unscriptural, and unsubstantiated in Christian revelation" (p.131). Unfortunately, O'Meara documents this statement by referring to CR 45, 87-88 which is Calvin's comments on Luke 2:22-23. while Calvin does write on Mary and sin, the statement is not as explicit as O'Meara states:
22. And after that the days were fulfilled. On the fortieth day after the birth, (Leviticus 12:2,4,) the rite of purification was necessary to be performed. But Mary and Joseph come to Jerusalem for another reason, to present Christ to the Lord, because he was the first-born. Let us now speak first of the purification. Luke makes it apply both to Mary and to Christ: for the pronoun aujtw~n, of them, can have no reference whatever to Joseph. But it ought not to appear strange, that Christ, who was to be, made a curse for us on the cross,” (Galatians 3:13,) should, for our benefit, take upon him our uncleanness with respect to legal guilt, though he was “without blemish and without spot,” (1 Peter 1:19.) It ought not, I say, to appear strange, if the fountain of purity, in order to wash away our stains, chose to be reckoned unclean. It is a mistake to imagine that this law of purification was merely political, and that the woman was unclean in presence of her husband, not in presence of God. On the contrary, it placed before the eyes of the Jews both the corruption of their nature, and the remedy of divine grace.

This law is of itself abundantly sufficient to prove original sin, while it contains a striking proof of the grace of God. for there could not be a clearer demonstration of the curse pronounced on mankind than when the Lord declared, that the child comes from its mother unclean and polluted, and that the mother herself is consequently defiled by childbearing. Certainly, if man were not born a sinner, if he were not by nature a child of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3) if some taint of sin did not dwell in him, he would have no need of purification. Hence it follows, that all are corrupted in Adam; for the mouth of the Lord charges all with pollution.

It is in perfect consistency with this, that the Jews are spoken of, in other passages, as “holy branches of a holy root,” (Romans 11:16:) for this benefit did not properly belong to their own persons. They had been set apart, by the privilege of adoption, as an elect people; but the corruption, which they had by inheritance from Adam, was first in the order of time We must, therefore, distinguish between the first nature, and that special kindness through a covenant, by which God delivers his own people from the curse which had been pronounced on all. And the design of legal purification was to inform the Jews, that the pollutions, which they brought with them into the world at their birth, are washed away by the grace of God. Hence too we ought to learn, how dreadful is the contagion of sin, which defiles, in some measure, the lawful order of nature. I do own that childbearing is not unclean, and that what would otherwise be lust changes its character, through the sacredness of the marriage relation. But still the fountain of sin is so deep and abundant, that its constant overflowings stain what would otherwise be pure.
Some Roman Catholics may find Calvin's use of the phrase "holy virgin" an indicator of the immaculate conception. Rather O'Meara explains Calvin's view:
Sanctification signifies choice and separation, which take place in us when we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit in a newness of life. From the moment when we first touch Christ we live in the body of Christ, and Christ lives in us, or better, we live by his spirit.Separation for the work of God made Mary holy; her important role in the kingdom of God made her virtuous. She was, nevertheless, no different in justification and sanctity from any other Christian. She was given no special graces; there was no immaculate conception. Mary is privileged just as every man whom God justifies is privileged. Calvin's exegesis of the angel's words, "full of grace," brings forth a relative fullness. "Stephen was full of grace too (Acts 6:8). Christ alone has a complete fullness. Mary's grace is her approval by God for her faith, and this grace is a pure gift of God who does not consider persons when he bestows grace." Elsewhere Calvin notes Mary's dependence upon Christ for grace; she has nothing of her own. "It is certain that Mary cannot find grace before God without the Head [Christ]. She needs Christ as her redeemer as much as we do." Mary's grace came when she believed, not when she conceived, and her privilege of being the Mother of the Lord did not cause a more profound and complete sanctification. One aspect of Mary's sanctity is her mission among men. The secrets of Christ's birth were given to her so that she might tell the Apostles and tell us of the great mercy of God. The angel's words were addressed to Mary, but it is incorrect to see them as describing her, for they were addressed to all of us through Mary. Her blessedness among women exists because through her all women too will be blessed in learning of the salvation which has come (pp. 131-132).
O'Meara goes on to point out a specific example where Calvin may have attributed sin to Mary: "The particular sin which Calvin imputes to Mary (is it a sin, since Calvin says "she did not knowingly and willingly offend"?) is sufficient indication that the reformer of Geneva would eliminate any notion of Mary's special co-operation in the redemption of man and in the office of mediator. That precisely is her only error: to place herself between man and God. How often in the volumes of his works Calvin repeats the demand that Christ be the sole Mediator" (p. 133-134). O'Meara is referring to Calvin's comment on John 2:4-
4. Woman, what have I to do with thee? Why does Christ repel her so rashly? I reply, though she was not moved by ambition, nor by any carnal affection, still she did wrong in going beyond her proper bounds. Her anxiety about the inconvenience endured by others, and her desire to have it in some way mitigated, proceeded from humanity, and ought to be regarded as a virtue; but still, by putting herself forward, she might obscure the glory of Christ. Though it ought also to be observed, that what Christ spoke was not so much for her sake as for the sake of others. Her modesty and piety were too great, to need so severe a chastisement. Besides, she did not knowingly and willingly offend; but Christ only meets the danger, that no improper use may be made of what his mother had said, as if it were in obedience to her command that he afterwards performed the miracle.
The Greek words literally mean, What to me and to thee? But the Greek phraseology is of the same import with the Latin — Quid tibi mecum? (what hast thou to do with me?) The old translator led many people into a mistake, by supposing Christ to have asserted, that it was no concern of his, or of his mother’s, if the wine fell short. But from the second clause we may easily conclude how far removed this is from Christ’s meaning; for he takes upon himself this concern, and declares that it belongs to him to do so, when he adds, my hour is not yet come. Both ought to be joined together — that Christ understands what it is necessary for him to do, and yet that he will not act in this matter at his mother’s suggestion.
It is a remarkable passage certainly; for why does he absolutely refuse to his mother what he freely granted afterwards, on so many occasions, to all sorts of persons? Again, why is he not satisfied with a bare refusal? and why does he reduce her to the ordinary rank of women, and not even deign to call her mother? This saying of Christ openly and manifestly warns men to beware lest, by too superstitiously elevating the honor of the name of mother in the Virgin Mary, they transfer to her what belongs exclusively to God. Christ, therefore, addresses his mother in this manner, in order to lay down a perpetual and general instruction to all ages, that his divine glory must not be obscured by excessive honor paid to his mother. How necessary this warning became, in consequence of the gross and disgraceful superstitions which followed afterwards, is too well known. For Mary has been constituted the Queen of Heaven, the Hope, the Life, and the Salvation of the world; and, in short, their fury and madness proceeded so far that they stripped Christ of his spoils, and left him almost naked. And when we condemn those horrid blasphemies against the Son of God, the Papists call us malignant and envious; and — what is worse — they maliciously slander us as deadly foes to the honor of the holy Virgin. As if she had not all the honor that is due to her, unless she were made a Goddess; or as if it were treating her with respect, to adorn her with blasphemous titles, and to substitute her in the room of Christ. The Papists, therefore, offer a grievous insult to Mary when, in order to disfigure her by false praises, they take from God what belongs to Him.
One final example that perhaps clearly affirms Calvin did not support Mary's immaculate conception comes from a statement he made about the sixth session of the Council of Trent:
We condemn those who affirm that a man once justified cannot sin, and likewise those who deny that the truly justified ever fall: those in like manner who assert that a man regenerated by the Spirit of God is able to abstain even from the least sins. These are the delirious dreams of fanatics, who either with devilish arrogance deceive, or with hypocrisy fascinate the minds of men, or plot to lead them to the precipice of despair. As to the special privilege of the Virgin Mary, when they produce the celestial diploma we shall believe what they say: for to what do they here give the name of the Church, but just to the Council of Clermont? Augustine was certainly a member of the Church, and though he in one passage chooses, in order to avoid obloquy, rather to be silent respecting the blessed Virgin, he uniformly, without making her an exception, describes the Whole race of Adam as involved in sin. Nay, he even almost in distinct terms classes her among sinners, when writing to Marcellinus, he says, They err greatly who hold that any of the saints except Christ require not to use this prayer, “Forgive us our debts.” In so doing, they by no means please the saints whom they laud. Chrysostom and Ambrose, who suspect her of having been tempted by ambition, were members of the Church. All these things I mention for no other end but to let my readers understand that there is no figment so nugatory as not to be classed by these blockheads among the Articles of Faith.

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