Saturday, January 03, 2015

Luther and Calvin... Friends or Enemies?

A recent comment left by a defender of Rome opined,
My take on Calvin: I did not read about Calvin, I read and studied Calvin. I read every single word of his Institutes and marked every page with notes. I read some of his commentaries as well as other works. I taught Calvin's theology to Jr. High kids. I wouldn't recommend him to anyone. Yes, he did start with Scripture, his own pet passages that he built his own new doctrines on. He stayed away from passages that went against his teachings. His erroneous teachings on limited atonement and God predestining some to hell are in defiance of using the whole Bible as a hermanuetic and an example of creating a God in his own image. Even Luther opposed him on this.
While there are a number of points here to comment on, what jumped out to me was the final statement:  "Even Luther opposed him on this." To my knowledge, I know of no theological writings that Luther ever wrote to or about Calvin. This last statement about Luther and Calvin demonstrated to me that the former comments didn't need to be responded to.

An irony with the above statement is that Calvin's sparse comments on the extent of the atonement have led a number of historical theologians to question whether or not Calvin actually held to limited atonement. Luther doesn't have lengthy treatises on the extent of the atonement either. Certainly both of these men made comments about the extent of the atonement (and I think it's possible to construct an overview of what each held on this Biblical issue). Luther never wrote about Calvin in opposition to limited atonement. In regard to predestination, Luther never wrote against Calvin. There is certainly a different emphasis in the two writers on predestination (contrary to R.C. Sproul's statement, Calvin wrote far more on the topic than Luther), but search Luther's writings, and you'll never find Luther going after Calvin about predestination. The hot topics between the Lutherans and the Calvinists at this time was the Lord's Supper, not the five points of Calvinism.

The comment from Rome's defender provoked me to track down an old article in my library: B.A. Gerrish, "John Calvin on Luther," from Jarosla Pelikan (ed.), Interpreters of Luther, Essays in Honor of Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968) pp. 67-96. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the article appears to have been  completely reprinted in a later book by Gerrish, I have not checked  the reprint closely to see if there were any significant changes between the two publications.

Gerrish presents an historical overview of Calvin's statements about Luther throughout his career. Overall, Calvin's statements in regard to Luther are positive, this despite the controversies between the Lutherans and the Swiss, and despite some negative comments from Calvin. While the article is specific to Calvin's comments about Luther, the author does venture into Luther's comments (or purported comments) about Calvin. For the remainder of this entry, I'd like to take a look at some of these. Elsewhere Gerrish does have an article entitled, Luther and the Reformed Eucharist: What Luther Said, or Might Have Said About Calvin.

1. There are no letters from Luther to Calvin (there is one from Calvin to Luther). Gerrish documents that there was an alleged letter from Luther to Calvin. The letter turned out to be from Simon Sultzer from Berne upon investigation.

2. In a 1539 letter to Martin Bucer, it's possible that Luther had read Calvin's Reply to Sadolto. Luther stated:
Farewell, and please greet reverently Mr. John Sturm and John Calvin; I have read their books with special pleasure. I wish Sadoleto would believe that God is the creator of men even outside of Italy. But this thought does not enter the hearts of the Italians since of course they alone, ahead of the rest of mankind, have totally lost their minds because of their arrogance. Again, farewell. October 14, 1539 Yours, MARTIN LUTHER [Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 50: Letters III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 50, pp. 190–191). Philadelphia: Fortress Press].
There is debate as to whether Luther had read the Reply to Sadoleto or rather the 1539 edition of the Institutes. Gerrish speculates that it was the Reply to Sadoleto: "But, when confronted with the section on the Eucharist in the new edition of the Institutes, he refused to retract his favorable opinion of the author" (p. 73).

3. In 1544 Calvin wrote The Necessity for Reforming the Church. Gerrish states that it is probable Luther read this: "We have it on reliable authority that Luther read the Humble Exhortation and gave it his glowing commendation" (p. 80). The "reliable source" Gerrish explains in a footnote: "'...vehementer esse collaudatum.' So the Spanish Protestant Dryander (Francisco d'Enzinas) wrote to Calvin, August 3, 1545: CO 12, 127 (no. 673). Dryander lived at Wittenberrg 1544-46" (p. 94). According to Dryander, Luther strongly praised this work from Calvin: "Ceterum quam sententiam de scripto tuo statibus Imperii oblato nostrorum procerum postulas, audio a Luthero lectum et vehementer esse collaudatum."

4. There are a few Table Talk statements from Luther. Gerrish explains,
An entry in the Table Talk asserts that “Calvin conceals his opinion on the question of the sacraments” (no. 5303); another that, “although a learned man, he is strongly suspect on the error of the sacramentarians” (no. 6050) [The first entry indicates that Lutheran suspicion of Calvin’s honesty goes back to Luther himself. The second, more ambivalent entry may mean that Calvin is suspected of misrepresenting, rather than sharing, the error of the sacramentarians: “Caluinus est vir doctus, sed valde suspectus de errore sacramentariorum] (p. 4).

5. Gerrish documents a lost letter  (1539) of Melanchthon to Calvin: "Calvin was also able to add two further testimonies of Luther's good will. The first was a statement in a letter from Melanchthon (now lost), according to which 'Calvin has found great favor'. The second was an incident which Melanchthon had instructed the messanger to deliver orally." (p.72). The letter from Calvin documenting this reads (in part) as follows:
Crate, one of our engravers, lately returned from Wittemberg, who brought a letter from Luther to Bucer, in which there was written “Salute for me reverently Sturm and Calvin, whose books I have read with special delight.” Now, consider seriously what I have said there about the Eucharist; think of the ingenuousness of Luther: it will now be easy for you to see how unreasonable are those who so obstinately dissent from him. Philip, however, wrote thus: — “Luther and Pomeranus have desired Calvin to be greeted; Calvin has acquired great favor in their eyes.” Philip has informed me at the same time by the messenger, that certain persons, in order to irritate Luther, have shown him a passage in which he and his Friends have been criticized by me; that thereupon he had examined the passage, and feeling that it was undoubtedly intended for him, had said at length: — “I hope that Calvin will one day think better of us; but in any event it is well that he should even now have a proof of our good feeling towards him.” If we are not affected by such moderation, we are certainly of stone. For myself, I am profoundly affected by it, and therefore have taken occasion to say so in the preface which is inserted before the Epistle to the Romans. If you have not yet read Philip on the Authority of the Church, I desire you may read it. You will perceive he is much more considerate than he appeared in his other writings. Capito, Bucer, Sturm, Hedio, Bedrot, and others, salute you most lovingly. Do you also salute respectfully all the brethren. — Yours, Calvin

5. The last purported statement from Luther about Calvin is one of the ones that I've heard before and have always meant to track down.  Gerrish states,
The most interesting testimony to Luther's continuing goodwill [to Calvin] is an anecdote related by both Christoph Pezel and Rudolph Hospinian. Moritz Goltsch, a Wittenberg bookseller, brought back the Latin translation of Calvin's Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper from the Frankfurt Fair (1545) and presented a copy to Luther, who read the closing section with particular care and announced that if Zwingli and Oecolampadius had spoken like Calvin there would have been no need for a long dispute" (p. 94). 
Gerrish notes that this anecdote comes from two witnesses, noting that "Pezel relates it with attention to details and also names the witnesses (one of Luther's table companions) from which this incident is derived." In his other article, Gerrish states,
The other writing of Calvin’s that earned Luther’s commendation is more important for our topic because directly pertinent to the eucharistic debate. In 1545 the Wittenberg bookseller Moritz Goltsch brought back from the Frankfurt Fair the Latin translation of Calvin’s Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, first written in French while Calvin was in Strasbourg and published in 1541 after his return to Geneva. Goltsch presented a copy to Luther, who, we are told, read with particular care the concluding section on the history of the eucharistic debate. Calvin, at his diplomatic best, says that Zwingli and Oecolampadius were so committed to the necessary task of rooting out the medieval belief in a carnal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper that they neglected (Calvin says “they forgot”!) to show the true nature of the communion of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament. Luther thought they meant to leave nothing in the sacrament but bare signs without their substance. But Luther should have made it clearer, for his part, that he did not mean a local presence such as the papists dream of, and he could have been more cautious in his use of language that was a bit harsh and crude—although, Calvin admits, it is difficult to explain so high a matter without some impropriety. Once these mild reservations, addressed evenhandedly to each side, are duly noted, Calvin concludes that the controversy is over: “We all confess, with one mouth, that in receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the Lord’s ordinance, we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. How that happens, some can deduce better and explain more clearly than others.” Luther is reported to have announced, as he read this gentle account of the controversy, that had Zwingli and Oecolampadius spoken like Calvin, there would have been no need for a long dispute.
Gerrish doesn't give an opinion on the authenticity of this one way or the other in his article about Calvin's view of Luther. In his article about Luther's view of Calvin he states, "Luther’s reported verdicts on these two treatises of Calvin’s may sound a little like Calvinist fiction, but they are well attested."

Another interesting account of this can be found here in an old source:
Luther's attitude to the same work was entirely favourable. We have proof of this in Pezel's Erzahlung vom Sakramentstreit. "The book of Calvin translated into Latin by Des Gallars had been printed in 1545, and brought to Wittenberg. On 13th April, Dr. Luther, having finished his lecture, betook himself to the book-shop of Moritz Goltsch, who showed him Calvin's little work on the Lord's Supper. Dr. Luther, seating himself, read the book with particular interest, and at last said, 'Certainly a learned and pious man! I could have entrusted the whole matter of this debate to him. For my part, I consider that if the opposite party had not made so much of it, we could have come to an agreement. If Zwingli and Oekolampadius had expressed themselves thus at the beginning, we should not have had so long dispute.' " Hospinian, in his Historiae Sacramentariae relates the same anecdote. Henry regards it as "having all the external and internal signs of truth." Koestlin says that it is credible, and Doumergue reproduces it as well as Ebrard. The De Coena was an irenical work, which did not profess to go deeply into any question, but rather to examine if no common formula could be found in which Luther and Zwingli could unite.
It's interesting to see the weight some place on this second hand account. This writer states, "According to Luther's confidant Christopher Pezel, Luther now realized the wisdom of Calvin's conception of the Lord's Supper. He even acknowledged that if the Zwinglians had expressed themselves in the terms of Calvin, the sacramentarian controversy would not been the dispute that it was." This writer simply states it as fact. Personally, I think that the information  from 1545 is too tenuous to be of any real use. The only benefit I can see it having are to those who want to infuriate Lutherans.

I've been told by a number of people that Luther would not think too fondly of me because I'm not a Lutheran, and worse than that, I'm Reformed. I've never given much thought on answering this beyond, "Oh well." The point of my blogging has never been to promote Lutheranism, but rather demonstrate the poor historical methods of Rome's defenders and others. Obviously I think there is a unity on the most essential theological point between Luther and myself: justification by faith alone. In reviewing this material though I found this excerpt from one of Calvin's letters most fascinating:

I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare scarce venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honor that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labors at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth,and that he had not flashed his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgment of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted. This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted; that, besides, you will do yourselves no good by quarreling, except that you may afford some sport to the wicked, so that they may triumph not so much over us as over the Evangel. If they see us rending each other asunder, they then give full credit to what we say, but when with one consent and with one voice we preach Christ, they avail themselves unwarrantably of our inherent weakness to cast reproach upon our faith. I wish, therefore, that you would consider and reflect on these things rather than on what Luther has deserved by his violence; lest that may’ happen to you which Paul threatens, that by biting and devouring one another, ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather to decline the contest than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of the Church. Adieu, my much honored brother in the Lord, and my very dear friend. Salute reverently in my name all the brethren in the ministry. May the Lord preserve you, and more and more increase his own gifts in you. My colleagues very kindly salute you.


James Swan said...

guy fawkes said... Could you elaborate on the unity between you and Luther on the relationship between faith and regeneration in the Ordo Salutis?

I'm familiar with the Lutheran ordo salutis in comparison with the Reformed. I don't recall though ever reading any studies into a construction of Luther's view placed in this later theological Latin construction. Luther does speak of faith as a gift, peppered throughout his writings, so it would appear to me that for Luther there was a sense in which regeneration precedes faith. If you have a study on Luther's view on someone attempting to construct an ordo salutis from Luther's writings, I would be interested in reading it. I've never attempted to put one together. I'm sure someone has.

guy fawkes said...James,Did they both believe in OSAS?

If by "they" Calvin and Luther are meant, the former believed that salvation could not be lost, the later did.

guy fawkes said...Can/will you expound on that?

In my paper which you earlier stated you "began reading it only to stop after a short while"- I did expound on it.

guy fawkes said...I thought I saw an answer posted to my previous question but I don't see it now. Did you delete it out? I thought it was very interesting and the lurkers would have liked to see it too. I was impressed not only by its erudition but by the spirit of charity it was inspired by. Please re-post it for all to enjoy

The earlier answer contains a truncated version of what's contained in this answer. It was deleted because of the ambiguity in your question with the use of "could" and the ambiguity of my answer of "no." I suspected that the ambiguity was such that you could race off in 10 different directions to avoid the actual topic of this blog post.

I've decided what to do with your comments. You will not be banned, but if your comments do not relate specifically to my topics, I will be deleting them. Time is precious. If I take a few hours to put a blog post together and you vandalize it with inconsistent points, rabbit trails and non sequiturs, I will eliminate the vandalism.

Thanks for your cooperation.

EA said...

"You will not be banned, but if your comments do not relate specifically to my topics, I will be deleting them. Time is precious. If I take a few hours to put a blog post together and you vandalize it with inconsistent points, rabbit trails and non sequiturs, I will eliminate the vandalism. "

Thank you, James!

EA said...


Se você tem alguma coisa que se relaciona com o tema, sinta-se livre para contribuir.

JimBrooks1776 said...

“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less"
'Guy Fawkes' The Iberian Troll

James Swan said...

I do not know who R.E. Pots is. I also took the time to look up someone else you mentioned, and that person was a Seventh Day Adventist.

Unknown said...


Actually, Lutherans and the Reformed agreed on the real presence of Christ. They disagreed about the mode of that presence.

The reformed considered the Lutheran position to be an error but not heresy and thus believed that unity and cooperation with the Lutherans was possible given the agreement on other essential matters of faith and practice.

Unknown said...


God decides what is an essential belief. He has done so in Scripture. It is by engaging in Scripture that we learn what and what is not essential.

For example, in Scripture Christ stresses that we eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him. He does not stress what we ought to believe about the Eucharist. He does not say, "believe that this is my corporeal body and you shall increase in your sanctification and justification" or anything even approximating that.

How do we know what is and what is not essential? By reading Scripture. The same way we determine what is and is not essential in any other written work.

Protestants will eventually agree. Unity is the work of Christ. And he will not fail.

Unknown said...


I think you are being to quick with your use of John 6. Jesus says, "If you don't eat my flesh and drink my blood." He does not say "If you don't believe that you are eating my flesh and drinking my blood."