Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Calvin: on the visible Church and apostasy – part 2

Calvin’s doctrine of the “visible” Church is a unique one—a position which I believe owes a great deal to the historical situation of Calvin’s day. On the one side, Calvin had to defend his schism from the Catholic Church, and on the other, he had to deal with the disregard/neglect of the visible Church as propagated by the various Anabaptist sects. This historical setting gave rise to a view of the Church that attempted achieve a balance of sorts between the two aforementioned positions, and raises two important questions: first, exactly what was Calvin’s doctrine of the Church; and second, is it defensible?

Because Calvin was attempting to achieve a mediating position, his doctrine of the Church is not easy to define. As we shall soon see, on the one hand he speaks of a “universal apostasy” which “seizes the church”; while on the other, he maintains that the churches of his day “remain churches”, and a remnant of “many scattered members of the church persevere in the true unity of the of the faith.” He also tries to defend his schism from the churches of his day that “remain churches”, while he attacks the Anabaptists sects for their schism(s).

Calvin’s most exhaustive treatment of the Church appears in the 4th book of his Institutes. All quotations from the Institutes of the Christian Religion in this post will be from The Westminster Press (1960) edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, and edited by John T. McNeill.

From the pen of Calvin we read:

THE TRUE CHURCH WITH WHICH AS MOTHER OF ALL THE GODLY WE MUST KEEP UNITY (4.1.chapter heading)

I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith. “For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder” [Mark 10:9 p.], so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother. And this was so not only under the law but also after Christ’s coming, as Paul testifies when he teaches that we are the children of the new and heavenly Jerusalem [Galatians 4:26]. (4.1.1)

The article in the Creed in which we profess to “believe the church” refers not only to the visible church (our present topic) but also to all God’s elect, in whose number are also included the dead. (4.1.2) [Note that Calvin here explicitly states that his “present topic” will be the VISBLE CHURCH.]

But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify…By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church. (4.1.4)

9. The marks of the church and our application of them to judgment

From this the face of the church comes forth and becomes visible to our eyes. Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Ephesians 2:20]. For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. But that we may clearly grasp the sum of this matter, we must proceed by the following steps: the church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion…

But we must think otherwise of the whole multitude itself. If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit. In this way we preserve for the universal church its unity, which devilish spirits have always tried to sunder; and we do not defraud of their authority those lawful assemblies which have been set up in accordance with local needs
. (4.1.9) [This section is Calvin’s locus classicus concerning the “marks” of a “true church.]


I shall end this second installment of the series with a couple of observations: first, Calvin’s doctrine of the visible Church is certainly a ‘strong’ one, for apart from the Mother’s bosom (i.e. visible Church), “one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation”; and second, we are already seeing Calvin’s belief in the need for unity via the agreement “on the one truth of divine doctrine” (which, IMHO, lends fuel to his somewhat hypocritical hatred of schism).

Much more to come, the Lord willing…


Grace and peace,

David

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary David. I have a copy of the Institutes in one volume somewhere. His statements on the visible Church as Mother seems like strong medicine for modern non-Catholic ears. Do you suppose the Reformed Baptists would have this teaching of Calvin, or even the OPC or PCA?

I tend to think they would point out, as you alluded to, that was occupied a little overly with the Anabaptists, and said some things to combat them that weren't quite right. That is what I would say if I were a Protestant Calvinist today.

Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

You posted:

>>Do you suppose the Reformed Baptists would have this teaching of Calvin, or even the OPC or PCA?

I tend to think they would point out, as you alluded to, that was occupied a little overly with the Anabaptists, and said some things to combat them that weren't quite right. That is what I would say if I were a Protestant Calvinist today.>>

Me: Reformed Baptists, probably not; OPC, some of the elders/pastors for sure; PCA, somewhere in the middle between the aforementioned.

The number of Reformed theologians and pastors who place a certain emphasis on the visible Church seems to be dwindling, and I suspect it probably has something to do with the fact that conservative Reformed folk have not been able to bring to fruition a consensus “on the one truth of divine doctrine”, as penned by Calvin.

Grace and peace,

David

Tim Enloe said...

It's interesting that you call Calvin's hatred of schism "hypocritical." That's a strong word, and one wonders what understanding of "schism" it implies. No doubt you are aware that Calvin, like the other Reformers and even some major Medieval figures before them, did not consider the Roman Church to be "the" Church, and so it is a begged question to say that Calvin "defends his schism from the Church." In his mind, as for the others I mentioned, it was the Roman Church that was in schism from the Catholic Church. "Schism" didn't mean for the reform parties what it meant to the papalists. I hope you'll bear this in mind as you develop your critique of Calvin.

David Waltz said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for responding; you wrote:

>>It's interesting that you call Calvin's hatred of schism "hypocritical." That's a strong word, and one wonders what understanding of "schism" it implies.>>

Me: For the record, I said, “somewhat hypocritical”, which softens the term.

>>No doubt you are aware that Calvin, like the other Reformers and even some major Medieval figures before them, did not consider the Roman Church to be "the" Church, and so it is a begged question to say that Calvin "defends his schism from the Church." In his mind, as for the others I mentioned, it was the Roman Church that was in schism from the Catholic Church. "Schism" didn't mean for the reform parties what it meant to the papalists. I hope you'll bear this in mind as you develop your critique of Calvin.>>

Me: Yet the “Catholic Church” of which you speak of was simply the “Roman Catholic Church” prior to the Reformation. And even after the Reformation, Calvin is able to call “churches” which are still Roman Catholic “Churches of Christ”. In his response to Cardinal Sadolet, Calvin said:

“We , indeed, Sadolet, deny not that those over which you preside are Churches of Christ”.

Now, my point is this: if Roman Catholic churches remain “Churches of Christ” after the Reformation, then they were certainly “Churches of Christ” before the Reformation; as such, the Reformers were in a real sense schismatics.


Grace and peace,

David

Ken Temple said...

Even Reformed Baptists have some understanding of the visible church - the visible church is the local church in its local community, and is unified over the essentials of the gospel, but has grace with issues like baptism, spiritual gifts, eschatology.

Since the Reformation resulted in so many schisms and even persecution, torture, wars; the understanding of basic unity and having grace on "secondary doctrines" has since been developed over the centuries. The USA helped get rid of those old European warlike and Roman Catholic methods; with the separation of church and state.

Calvin and Luther were men of their times.

Doesn't mean that all churches will agree on every point of doctrine.

There is great unity with Reformed Baptists (John Piper, Mark Dever) Southern Baptists who are Reformed (Al Mohler), Bible and Community Churches (John MacArthur), Presbyterian (R. C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan), Independents (Soveregin Grace churches - who believe in the perpetuity of the miraculous spiritual gifts - J. C. Mahaney)

see
www.t4g.org

Ken Temple said...

David,
Please comment on my latest entry in your post about Optatus.

Seems he was still very far removed from Peter of Pointiers in the 1100s AD and the development of ex opera operato; and he clearly says "by faith and by the Trinity".

Tim Enloe said...

Not quite accurate, David. First, in the later Middle Ages there was a significant strand of thought that held that phrases such as "the Roman Church" and "the Catholic Church" did not necessarily exclusively apply to the Roman Bishop and his underlings. This is the first point on which you are wrong.

The second point on which you are wrong is that much of the Reformers' polemic against "papist" churches was aimed precisely at the bullseye of the target: the papacy. Again, a significant strand of the late Medieval tradition had come to identify the papacy with the Antichrist, or at least, to identify it as a very seriously corrupt entity which in no way could claim to be "the" Church. This is the tradition in which the Reformers were standing as they made their critiques. Their "Romanist" opponents, on the other hand, were standing within the relatively recent "high papalist" tradition formulated by Pope Gregory VII less than 500 years earlier. This is, in fact, why in one of his works Luther accuses the papacy of being grounded in a recent novelty, and not in the ancient constitution of the Church. Calvin, likewise, goes to no small trouble in the Institutes to show how the growth of the papacy progressively usurped the organization of the primitive Church and unlawfully transformed it into a tyrannical feudal dominion that was in no way consonant with the basic principles of the catholic Faith.

The basic view of the Reformers was that "the Roman Church" was a sort of Cyprianic composite entity containing many true particular churches of Christ, but that the external political structure to which those churches belonged, namely, "the Roman Catholic Church," or, the Papalist Monarchical Fiefdom, was a corruption of the devil that had to be purged from the legitimate "catholic Church" over which it was tyrannizing.

All this, again, was a well developed late Medieval train of thought. There is nothing "hypocritical" about it, not even "somewhat." There is no contradiction in claiming that there are true churches of Christ within "Rome" but that "Rome" as a whole is not the true Church of Christ. One has to pay attention to the careful distinctions at work in the discussions. One also has to know some pretty substantial things about the historical background.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

You posted:

>>David,
Please comment on my latest entry in your post about Optatus.

Seems he was still very far removed from Peter of Pointiers in the 1100s AD and the development of ex opera operato; and he clearly says "by faith and by the Trinity".>>

Me: Ooops…seems that I have overlooked your most recent post in that thread; I shall head over there, after I finish up here.

Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Tim,

You wrote:

>> Not quite accurate, David. First, in the later Middle Ages there was a significant strand of thought that held that phrases such as "the Roman Church" and "the Catholic Church" did not necessarily exclusively apply to the Roman Bishop and his underlings. This is the first point on which you are wrong.>>

Me: Let me get this straight, are you saying that there were literal churches in Western Europe with ordained priests under Catholic bishops who did not believe that they were in some real sense in union with the Bishop of Rome? (If this is what you are saying, I would sincerely appreciate some examples; if it is not, could you clarify a bit further.)

>>The second point on which you are wrong is that much of the Reformers' polemic against "papist" churches was aimed precisely at the bullseye of the target: the papacy. Again, a significant strand of the late Medieval tradition had come to identify the papacy with the Antichrist, or at least, to identify it as a very seriously corrupt entity which in no way could claim to be "the" Church. This is the tradition in which the Reformers were standing as they made their critiques.>>

Me: Hmmmm…I am in agreement with all the above, and was going to address this particular issue in a subsequent post. I do not see how I can be “wrong” on something I have not commented on yet.

Grace and peace,

David

Tim Enloe said...

No, I am not saying there were "literal churches in Western Europe with ordained priests under Catholic bishops who did not believe that they were in some real sense in union with the Bishop of Rome." The problem is that what that meant was simply not agreed upon. Catholics are fond of quoting statements by popes and their creatures using all manner of exalted language about the authority of the papacy relative to other bishops, but they are not so fond of quoting numerous counter statements arguing for various interpretations of what "papal authority" meant back then.

It was only a "done deal" in the minds of the papalists; the rest of Christendom, while largely adhering to the papacy in terms of its cultural legacy (the spiritualized "Universal Empire of the Romans"), nevertheless felt quite free to criticize the papalists for their extremist language about themselves, and the popes pretty much couldn't do squat about it. Even the canon law teacher of Innocent III, Huggucio of Pisa, raised some thorny questions about the limitations of papal authority, and the debate raged for centuries.

The bottom line is this: although you are Catholic, if you wish to be an honest interpreter of history - that is, an interpreter who doesn't continually engage in special pleading to avoid uncomfortable facts that don't fit the tidy "development of doctrine" story - you just cannot take the papalist story for granted and use it to judge everyone else. Things were not that simple back then. Everyone knew it. The only people who don't know it are dogmatic souls who think ideas in their heads are more important than actual lived reality, or, on the other hand, misguided converts who don't read serious works of history but rely on outdated 19th century scholarship and superficial 20th century apologetics constructs.

David Waltz said...

Hi Tim,

I sincerely appreciate your continued dialogue on this subject; you posted:

>>No, I am not saying there were "literal churches in Western Europe with ordained priests under Catholic bishops who did not believe that they were in some real sense in union with the Bishop of Rome." The problem is that what that meant was simply not agreed upon.>>

Me: The scenario you present above is one I agree with, so I remain at a bit of a loss as to why you believe I am not being “accurate”, and that I am “wrong”. What I have attempted to convey is the ecclesiastical unity that existed in Western Christendom prior to the schisms of the Reformation period. I have NEVER presented a case that there existed a monolithic view of the Bishop of Rome’s authority. I honestly believe that you are attempting to read too much into what I have ACTUALLY written.

>>Catholics are fond of quoting statements by popes and their creatures using all manner of exalted language about the authority of the papacy relative to other bishops, but they are not so fond of quoting numerous counter statements arguing for various interpretations of what "papal authority" meant back then.>>

Me: Hmmm…I think you are being a bit hyperbolic here. I am one who thoroughly embraces doctrinal development; as such, I do not shy away from the historical fact that the Papacy has developed, and in a very real is still developing. And further, one of the best books on this development was written by a Catholic! (Klaus Schatz’s, Papal Primacy).

>>The bottom line is this: although you are Catholic, if you wish to be an honest interpreter of history - that is, an interpreter who doesn't continually engage in special pleading to avoid uncomfortable facts that don't fit the tidy "development of doctrine" story - you just cannot take the papalist story for granted and use it to judge everyone else. Things were not that simple back then. Everyone knew it. The only people who don't know it are dogmatic souls who think ideas in their heads are more important than actual lived reality, or, on the other hand, misguided converts who don't read serious works of history but rely on outdated 19th century scholarship and superficial 20th century apologetics constructs.>>

Me: Tim, could you please provide some concrete examples of “special pleading to avoid uncomfortable facts that don't fit the tidy ‘development of doctrine’ story” on my part? Perhaps you have forgotten that it is I who has taken a lot of heat from ALL sides for taking many to task for their “special pleading/s” concerning the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. (For the record, yet once again, I do not believe that any of the Apostles were Trinitarians in a post-Nicene sense; nor do I believe that they fully understood the implications Matt. 16:18 and so many other passages that deal with the issue/s of authority in Christ’s universal Church.)


Looking forward to your response…


Grace and peace,

David

Tim Enloe said...

Well, this started because you accused Calvin of being "somewhat hypocritical" in his view of schism. He supposedly willfully engaged in schism from Rome, but then "somewhat hypocritically" denounced the schisms of the Anabaptists. I am saying that you are approaching the issue of what schism is incorrectly, because you are starting your inquiry with the begged question that lack of union with the pope is the definition of "schism." Thus Calvin was guilty of schism from "the churches of his day" which he yet said "remain churches."

It looks like so far you've only quoted from Institutes 4.1. You need to go into 4.2 to get the fuller explanation of what "true" and "false" churches are for Calvin, and also observe especially at 4.2.11 and 4.2.12 the qualifications made on the "churches" that do exist under the tyranny of the papacy. Such churches as do, by God's special grace, retain some "symbols of the church" are "churches" in that limited sense, but yet not "legitimate" churches as to form. As for the phrase you highlight, unity “on the one truth of divine doctrine,” are you sure you know what that means? Can you tell me where in Calvin he discusses what "the one truth of divine doctrine," namely, the Catholic Christian faith, actually is?

There are some complex distinctions being made here, and you really need to take them into account before using charged words like "somewhat hypocritical."

David Waltz said...

Hi Tim,

In your most recent response you posted:

>>Well, this started because you accused Calvin of being "somewhat hypocritical" in his view of schism. He supposedly willfully engaged in schism from Rome, but then "somewhat hypocritically" denounced the schisms of the Anabaptists.>>

Me: First, keep in mind that this new series is in its infancy—I am still laying the foundation before I attempt to offer a detailed analysis. Second, my comment concerning Calvin’s “somewhat hypocritical” stance on the issue of schism juxtaposes Western Christian churches prior to the Reformation, out of which the Reformation churches emerged, with the Anabaptist churches of the Reformation period which Calvin criticizes.

>>I am saying that you are approaching the issue of what schism is incorrectly, because you are starting your inquiry with the begged question that lack of union with the pope is the definition of "schism." Thus Calvin was guilty of schism from "the churches of his day" which he yet said "remain churches.">>

Me: Fair enough. My actual position is not that simple though, for I generally first appeal to the authority of the Ecumenical councils as expressions of Catholic unity during the periods controversy (Trinitarian, Christological, Inconoclast, et al.). Those with whom we typically identify with the term “Catholic” ultimately embraced the doctrinal decisions formulated during those Ecumenical Councils, while the label/s of heretic and/or schismatic is placed on those who rejected those decisions.

>>It looks like so far you've only quoted from Institutes 4.1.>>

Me: Guilty as charged. 4.1 first, then 4.2, to be following by 4.3…etc., etc. (Rome was not built in a day—pun intended).

>>There are some complex distinctions being made here, and you really need to take them into account before using charged words like "somewhat hypocritical.">>

Me: I can respect your feelings on this—I shall attempt to refrain from using “charged words” during the foundational stage/s of this series.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Apparently "hypocritical" is a word that does not allow for softening in the minds of some. I do not think it was your intent to use it as a strong charge, but your opponent is certainly taken aback by it.

I fear it has in the mind of Tim, made you appear to be defending "outdated 19th century scholarship and superficial 20th century apologetics constructs", when, if I understand you correctly, you probably understand the doctrines of papal primacy as presented during those years in approximately the same ways as he.

I wonder if a retraction of "somewhat hypocritical" would enable discussion without weakening your case? Again, I do not see this as a "railing accusation", but if some do, perhaps it wouldn't hurt to start over by backing up this half-step.

If I understand what you are saying in regards to Calvin, I think Tim is way wrong in attributing to you that 'you are starting your inquiry with the begged question that lack of union with the pope is the definition of "schism."'

What is important of course, if Calvin is to be considered to any degree hypocritical, is only Calvin's view of schism. It is not, to any degree hypocritical, for him to practise contrary to what someone else preaches. We only need to discover, what he believed constituted the sin of schism.

What would be more interesting to me, is if modern day Calvinists, (only those accepting Calvin's view of schism), are able and willing to point to any visible church today which would qualify as the Christian's mother, Holy Mother Church, to use his own expression. Presumably, to separate oneself from this mother in this context would constitute a sinful schism. What local church today should be my mother in this sense? What unified, organized multiplicity of churches is my mother?

Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Nice to see you back. Thanks much for your reflections…

Just briefly, I personally do not consider Tim an “opponent”—he is certainly not your typical Reformed online apologist. Tim embraces a much ‘broader’ view of the Church than most Reformed folk.

If you get some time, check out his website/blog (the link is on the right side-bar).


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

I did not mean to use the word as a pejorative at all. Our opponent in a discussion is not of necessity an enemy. I would have called him something else if I had wanted to imply that he was a bad guy!

R

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

I thought Aquinas had some worthy thoughts on the sacramental questions and concerns about magic raised by Ken Temple over at "Optatus". I put them over there which is now three or four articles back if you or anyone else is interested.

Matt said...

It seems that the word "hypocrtical" could almost be replaced by the word "ironic." It would carry your basic meaning, if I understand you correctly, without any of the perjorative, charged, etc., connotations. No? :-)

David Waltz said...

Hi Matt,

Ironic works for me; especially in the context of my original post.

You got me thinking on this, so I Googled “Calvin hypocritical”, which brought the following up as one of the ‘hits’:

HERE

Not a lot of ‘love’ going on…


Since one of the posters (Contra-Mundum) recommended “James White's website blog”, I ventured over there and typed “Enloe” in the blog’s search engine—the result was a bit disturbing:

HERE




Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

What local church today should be my mother in this sense? What unified, organized multiplicity of churches is my mother?

Hey Rory, did Tim get back to you on this? Maybe Ken could advise you here.

Peter P

Voice in the Desert said...

David:

"...first, Calvin’s doctrine of the visible Church is certainly a ‘strong’ one, for apart from the Mother’s bosom (i.e. visible Church), “one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation”;"


Reminds you of something the Catholic Church has preached since time immemorial culminating in the Extra Ecclesia Nullam Salus?

And non-Catholics tend to crucify the Church for narrow-mindedly believing thus each time they proclaim such things that carry that sentiment, as when Papa Ben himself had said something similar last year as concerning the True Church which no one can be saved outside thereof.

If the above citation from Calvin is correct, he's not so far from what the Church herself continues to teach even today.

David Waltz said...

Hi VitD,

You posted:

>>If the above citation from Calvin is correct, he's not so far from what the Church herself continues to teach even today.>>

Me: The three English editions I have looked at (and a Latin one) establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the quote is accurate.

And yes, there sure seems to be a certain affinity between Calvin’s assessment and the long standing dictum Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. (Off of the top of my head, I think the phrase dates back to Cyprian).


Grace and peace,

David

Voice in the Desert said...

"And yes, there sure seems to be a certain affinity between Calvin’s assessment and the long standing dictum Extra ecclesiam nulla salus."


Well, the only thing I am unable to make out is that, with respect to Calvin's own thoughts concerning the Elect for whom Jesus died specifically for, does this -- being within the True Church -- really actually matter?