Monday, March 29, 2010

Are There Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin? (Part Four)

In a self-published Roman Catholic book comes the following quotation from John Calvin:
At present I only reply in one word, that our Saviour’s promise is made to those only who assemble in his name. How, then, is such an assembly to be defined? I deny that those assemble in the name of Christ who, disregarding his command by which he forbids anything to be added to the word of God or taken from it, determine everything at their own pleasure, who, not contented with the oracles of Scripture, that is, with the only rule of perfect wisdom, devise some novelty out of their own head (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18). . . . Let my opponents solve this difficulty if they would subject my faith to the decrees of man, without authority from the word of God. (IV, 9:2)
The author uses this Calvin quote under the heading, "The Catholic Church vs. the Bible?" He concludes Calvin here is saying Rome's doctrine is unscriptural because... Calvin says it is. The author contends "It is simply not the case that Catholics ignore Scripture in setting forth their theological views" (p.17).

What is Calvin actually saying? The section from the Institutes begins Calvin's look at Councils and their authority (one wouldn't figure this out from the author's citation). Calvin begins in IV- 9.1 noting his esteem for ancient church councils. In IV-9.2 Calvin uses the criterion that a Council gathers in Christ's name when its goal is not to add or subtract from God's word. Calvin says that it's meaningless for his opponents to cite councils in response to him if they haven't first established that those councils really were gathered in Christ's name. Calvin says,
Ungodly and evil bishops can just as much conspire against Christ as good and honest ones can come together in his name. We have clear proof of this fact in a great many decrees that have come forth from such councils. But this will appear later.
Calvin does cover this later (in IV-9.8-9). Calvin isn't making a blanket statement that all Roman Catholics "ignore Scripture in setting forth their theological views." He may make statements like this, but he certainly isn't making it here. He's arguing that when his opponents cite a Council to him, they need to first establish that council is not adding or subtracting to God's word. Calvin says,
It will benefit our adversaries but little to mention councils of bishops a thousand times over; nor will they persuade us to believe what they contend—that councils are governed by the Holy Spirit — before they convince us that these have been gathered in Christ’s name.
This is a great example of how the author reads a text. He argues about a point Calvin isn't even making at the moment. If the author really wanted to respond to Calvin, he should at least respond to the argument being made. Why not argue against Calvin about who decides if a Council is meeting in Christ's name? Why not argue who determines if someone is adding or subtracting to God's word? What criteria serves as a guideline to determine an addition or subtraction? If I were a Roman Catholic reading this section of the Institutes, that's what I would ask.