Defending John Calvin’s “Top 15 ‘Catholic’ Beliefs”

Defending John Calvin’s “Top 15 ‘Catholic’ Beliefs” September 2, 2015


Portrait of John Calvin (1858) by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Lo and behold, two Calvinists showed up in the combox of my paper, Top 15 “Catholic” Beliefs of John Calvin, and engaged in some of the worst, most wrongheaded, utterly illogical “argumentation” I have ever seen in my 34 years of apologetics (which is really sayin’ somethin’). They are likely anti-Catholics (i.e., those who regard Catholicism as a non-Christian belief-system, which leads people to hell and cannot help save men’s souls). The bizarre, relentlessly erroneous  nature of these “criticisms” has to be seen to be believed.

The words of “AFBooks” will be in blue; those of Lucas Hattenberger (thanks for the real name for a change!) in green. Both were banned, not for merely disagreeing and for being Calvinists, but for massive, repeated, blatant violations of my clearly laid-out “Discussion Policy.”  As I’ve stated over and over, anyone is welcome here to argue whatever they like, provided they remain civil, courteous, and civil.

When someone is in our house as our invited guest and is repeatedly rude and insulting to us as hosts or our guests, they are escorted to the door, aren’t they? That’s what I do here. Ethics don’t magically change online, as if different rules of behavior and discourse apply. If you want to act like an ass and a jerk, this will not be the place for you to do that.

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The author of this article might do well to quote within context and to do proper exegesis of the cited passages before assigning a Roman Catholic designation to Calvin’s works. For example, when Calvin referred to the Church, he noted it as the Church Universal (as one of the cited quotes indicated), He did not equate the Church Universal and the Roman Catholic Church as vast majority of the time. I also noticed a lot of the citations removed parts of a quote. Why? Context is very important in understanding a written work. That not only goes with the Bible but also with other works. Would we also believe that Calvin held Cicero as having divine authority given the number of times he quote Cicero? I believe this article has a number of hasty generalizations.

My argument was not that these things are all literally Catholic (which is why I put “Catholic” in quotes in the title). I made this very clear in the introduction:

I don’t intend to imply that Calvin agrees with Catholics in every jot and tittle of all the following categories. What is agreed-upon is what is actually stated in these particular comments, which may sometimes be a part of a doctrine or practice. Two parties can agree, for example, on the basic fundamentals of a question, and then go on to differ on more minute particulars that each feels are a logical extension of the premises.

This makes much of your comment a non sequitur: not really directed at my paper, but rather, at a caricature of it. I’ve written two books (one / two), replying to large portions of Calvin’s Institutes line-by-line (including the entirety of Book IV). I know what the man believed (just as I know what Luther believed, having studied him far more than Calvin, including two more books [one / two] ).

We can always quibble over how much context is necessary. Sometimes it is a legitimate point; usually it is not, as in this instance. Anyone can go to the primary source to get more context, as it’s all available online.

If you wish to critique any of my points, make a specific argument as to why it was an incorrect inclusion, rather than all these (highly questionable) generalizations, which is “poor man’s argument.”

Dialogue is such a lost art today that so often folks want to talk about a person and/or his views (generalizing, subjectively) — as if he isn’t even present — rather than with them (objective and specific and interactive). The former is postmodern subjective mush; the latter is classic dialogue.

Dave, again you show you have not read much of Calvin’s works. If you did, you would not have made the above statement. Almost all of your statements are preceded by:

“Calvin thought…”
“Calvin believed…”
“Calvin accepted…”
“Calvin taught…”
“Calvin approved…”
“Calvin held…”

In none of the 15 cases you cite does any of the above apply. In fact, the opposite is true in every case. You remove quotations from “The Institutes” from context and therefore misquote him, especially when in the same place he teaches just the opposite. I went over each one within context and previously gave a number of examples that prove you wrong.

There is no resemblance (substantial or otherwise) between what you claim and what Calvin taught. What you write is false through and through because you fail to read and quote from context plain and simple. Cherry picking quotes from a work without considering all the places Calvin teaches a certain doctrine is not a way of reading.

A particular example is Calvin’s doctrine of regeneration. He did not ever hold to baptismal regeneration. You misinterpret him because you not only read the surrounding context but other places where he writes of regeneration (81 times). Your cherry-picking leads to a gross misreading. He held to spiritual regeneration.

Therefore, you need to read Calvin more carefully and cease cherry-picking passages from his book for claiming that he taught something he never did.

Not all Calvinists agree with you about that. Here is one basically agreeing with me (three excerpts from an online paper):

Calvin held to a strong view of baptismal efficacy, e.g., what could easily be called “baptismal regeneration,” “baptismal justification,” or “baptismal adoption.” He was thoroughly at home in the baptismal theology of Augustine.

For example, in Calvin’s children’s catechism, dating from 1538-9, he writes the following questions and answers: “My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name? Yes, my father. How is this known to you? Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Clearly, these statements are on the assurance end of the spectrum. But a bit later in the catechism, Calvin gives this sequence: “How did you come into this communion of the church? Through baptism. What is this baptism? It is the washing of regeneration and cleansing from sin.” Here the efficacious, instrumental side comes to the fore. The two sides of his sacramental theology are regularly laced together in Institutes 4.14. For example, on page 1282, he says: “It is therefore certain that the Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments…We have determined, therefore, that sacraments are truly named the testimonies of God’s grace and are like seals of the good will that he feels toward us, which by attesting that good will to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith.” But in between the elipsis, he says, “Accordingly, Paul, in speaking to believers, so deals with the sacraments as to include in them the communicating of Christ [Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:12-13].” So in the sacraments, God confirms our faith by pledging good will towards us, but also effectually communicates Christ to us. We receive not just cognitive assurance, but Christ himself!

Readers of Calvin on baptism should note two things in particular. One, he uses Augustine repeatedly and with almost total approval. Never does he criticize Augustine for ascribing too much efficacy to baptism. And yet, no serious scholar would question that Augustine held to some form of baptismal regeneration. Two, note that Calvin regularly and without qualification applies passages such Rom. 6:2ff, 1 Pt. 3:20-21, etc. to water baptism. He does not spiritualize away the baptismal referent, as later “Protestant Gnostics” have been known to do.

Calvin did not accept baptismal regeneration. You will not read that from the Institutes; and I doubt if you have ever read Calvin’s Institutes given your remarks. Calvin wrote of the regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

You also do not understand how Calvin uses figure of speech in terms of the Eucharist or Lords’ supper. You are wrong twice. Do you know how to read?

Calvin (like Luther) not infrequently contradicts himself. In this instance, he accepted baptismal regeneration. In others he does not. That’s why this was the “cutest” of my 15 points; and I was waiting for someone like you to show up to make this point. Thanks! Here is another Calvinist claiming that Calvin’s view on the sacramental nature of baptism may be interpreted in the way that I have. Reformed scholar Peter Leithart cites Calvin from his Antidote to the Council of Trent:

We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. Accordingly, sin truly remains in us, and is not instantly in one day extinguished by baptism, but as the guilt is effaced it is null in regard to imputation.

Then he comments:

Calvin does not say, “Baptism doesn’t remit sins.” He agrees that it does; he is completely Nicene. He also says that “regeneration” or renewal is initiated by baptism, though it continues throughout the life of the baptized. His argument with the Tridentine decree is not about the efficacy of baptism but with the question of whether concupiscence counts as sin (he says it does).

Cite primary sources instead of secondary ones. Calvin’s “Institutes” as I noted states just the opposite.

For being a “Roman Catholic,” you engage in attacking and censorship rather than presenting arguments on the merits. Aquinas, Anselm, and Augustine would be perplexed by your approach. They would consider it very sad indeed.

Another dense miscomprehension of how logical argument flows . . .

I’ve engaged in lengthy debates with Calvinists on Calvin’s view of the Eucharist, and am quite familiar with his position. Thus, I was very precise in my wording in that section, writing: “a profound causal connection between Holy Eucharist and salvation:” I did not assert that he accepted literal presence or real or substantial presence, as Catholics do.

But in this one respect, he agrees with us.

Read my Introduction again. That alone (i.e., understood) would have prevented a lot of the sheer nonsense and insults you are throwing my way.

False. You fail to read Calvin on regeneration (81 times) and lift a single quote from context.

“For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing; nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament” (IV, 15, 2). Read the entire section.

In section 4, Calvin speaks of baptism as a SIGN not the means of regeneration. You have also not done your homework on Calvin’s teaching on baptism (mentioned well over 100 times in “The Institutes.”

Calvin DOES NOT contradict himself. You simply MISREAD him.

So do Calvinist scholars or pastors. I just cited two above. I have subsequently cited several others [see below], and also stated that I could easily produce several more regarding many of the issues.

Dave, you are the one misunderstanding Calvin.

Then I do it in league with many Calvinist scholars. Take, e.g., the perpetual virginity of Mary. I cited several Reformed scholars in agreement in a paper of mine. You said all 15 of my points were dead wrong. Is it your claim (it must be) that Calvin was also an advocate of contraception? By all means, try to prove that!

Calvin never spoke of “contraception.” That is projecting a modern term to the past. The word “contraception” was not used until 1886. You are wrong again. I never made such a claim.

You guys differ amongst yourselves. Some Calvinists think Calvin was a supralapsarian (as I do); others (more) think he was an infralapsarian. I wrote about this way back in 1996.

Your reply is not a defense of your article. You did not write about lapsarianism in your article. Non sequitur.

Oh boy. I won’t bother to explain that reference. Others can see what I meant.

You are amazing. I already cited one Presbyterian pastor about baptismal regeneration, and several scholars about Mary’s perpetual virginity.

And I can easily cite many more if you don’t have wits enough to cease this ridiculous “argument” you are making.

Get your head out of the sand.

* * * 

It is one thing to read an article that has factual errors but an entirely different matter to read primary sources. The writer of this article is wrong and clearly shows that he quotes out of context while not being a very good reader. Every single point the writer of this article claims is wrong, because:

1. He confuses the Roman Catholic Church and the Church Universal. Calvin never spoke favorably of the Roman Catholic Church and warned King Francis (to whom he addressed this book) of Popish errors.

2. He totally misreads Calvin about the primacy of the Holy See. Calvin argues just the opposite, and argues against any such primacy. Dave Armstrong takes his quotes out of context and fails to read the entire chapter.

3. All the other thirteen points his makes are in error due to his inability to read the text and through ripping that text from context.

Armstrong should be embarrassed for writing such an erroneous article. He does not even know Reformed doctrine, which came from Calvin to Knox in Scotland.

1. I have indeed read the Institutes. I’ve written two books that reply to it in great detail, including all of Book IV (in my book).

2. As to #1, I did no such thing. I never said that his view of the Church was that it was identical with the Catholic Church, headed by the pope. That is a fancy from between your ears and in your imagination only. If you keep thinking I am a complete dumbbell and ignoramus regarding Calvin, you’ll just make yourself look like a fool.

3. Re: #3, I stated that Calvin accepted Roman primacy “in EARLY Christian history.” [present emphasis] Obviously, he did not in the 16th century, so this is a red herring, too, like all the other pseudo-points and reputed “arguments” you are making.

4. Regarding #3, such generalities are not argument. If you make an actual point, I’ll either show how it is incorrect, or concede the point if you actually make a successful argument. Based on the poor quality of your “arguments” thus far, I don’t expect to be making concessions, prompted by you. But it’s always possible, since even the unplugged clock is right twice a day. Likewise, you may conceivably stumble upon the truth in these points once in a while.

5. Normally, I would block a person who has made as many personal attacks and slanderous remarks as you have. But it’s fun, and may be made into another paper, so I’ll tolerate your relentless inanities for the time being.

Ridicule and personal attacks do not support your case. I do not care how many books you wrote about John Calvin (or show that you co-authored books with him, Whitaker, Goode, or others), what you write in your 15 points does not reflect sound scholarship or that you have actually read the literature on Calvin. You do not reply to Calvin scholars or even note that there are any concerning their assessment of Calvin (i.e., McNeill). Again, cherry picking proves nothing, and that is not an attack on you but on your authorship.

Furthermore, to show Calvin as one of the authors of your book on Calvin as you did on Amazon is an improper notation and does not agree with style manuals (especially the “Chicago Manual of Style.” Yes I did go to Amazon to check out your publications.

I also do not see your credentials there to reflect that you are even qualified to write on Calvin. In which scholarship journals are you published that reflect any interaction with Calvin’s doctrine, hermeneutics, history, or other scholars? I see none listed in your bio.

You can ban me from your blog if you wish, but it will not be because I engaged in personal attack on you. It will only show that because you are incapable of defending what you wrote, you simply suppress criticism of what you write.

Do you know what Jesus said about calling someone a fool? Perhaps you should read your Bible.

I have done so, and wrote about (2-5-14 on my Facebook page) this very topic of calling people “fools” (knowing that fools like you would make an issue out of it. According to your “reasoning” Peter and Paul risked hellfire by disobeying Jesus, and our Lord Jesus Himself contradicted himself. The truth of the matter is that hyperbolic  and proverbial statements in Holy Scripture allow many exceptions. And this is what we see, taking all the relevant data into account; for example: 

MATTHEW 5:22 (RSV) But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” [Strong’s word #3474: “moros”] shall be liable to the hell of fire.

MATTHEW 23:17, 19 You blind fools! [“moros”] For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? . . . [19] You blind men! [“moros”] For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

MATTHEW 25:2-3, 8 Five of them were foolish [“moros”], and five were wise. [3] For when the foolish [“moros”] took their lamps, they took no oil with them; . . . [8] And the foolish [“moros”] said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

Different Greek words for “fool” / “foolish” below:

ROMANS 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

1 CORINTHIANS 15:36 You foolish man! [KJV: “Thou fool” / Rheims: “Senseless man”] What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.

GALATIANS 3:1, 3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? . . . [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

1 PETER 2:15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Yes, you’re banned now because of unrelenting, astonishingly ignorant and dense comments, as well as for persistent personal attacks. I have standards for discourse here.

Fools like you, who are bigots against fellow Christians, who don’t know logic or the nature of legitimate dialogue from a hole in the ground, and who won’t yield an inch, even though wrong on the most basic, undeniable facts, give Christians a bad name. This is why the atheists think we are dumbbells: the anti-rational, hyper-illogical mentality you broadcast with every comment.

Go be a fool somewhere else. I don’t suffer fools easily. But I won’t have my web page polluted by people like you, because it is central to my life’s work as an apologist. If I did that, soon all good discussion would cease, because people would stop coming and reading.

May God bless you with all good things.

[note how he overcomes the ban by simply using another IP, which is, of course, trolling, and further grounds for banishment, by the well-established standards of netiquette]

[replying to someone else] First , it is false that the disagreement between Dave and me is based on logic. That is an attempt at mind reading. The disagreement is based on accuracy and truth. Dave’s claims are inaccurate, untruthful, and based on logical fallacies.

Second, logic based on error is a logical fallacy, since logic relies on accurate facts and truth. Dave is simply inaccurate, and I showed it from Calvin’s “Institutes.” Consequently, he went on several rabbit trails as distractions from his inaccurate statements about Calvin in his article by citing secondary sources about what Calvin meant elsewhere.

Third, Dave also engaged in personal attack and name-calling when I called out his errors of fact. When his name-calling failed to work, he then banned me from ever posting a new post. That is disingenuous, evasion, and an attempt to suppress the free exchange of ideas.

Fourth, to claim you do not need to read a certain author to understand an argument based on logic is true but has nothing to do with the reading of the author. It is also the logical fallacies of non sequitur and appeal to ignorance.

I do not misread Armstrong at all.

Oh yes you sure did! You have scarcely read me correctly at all. You’ve made a total fool of yourself.

He speaks within the context of Roman Catholic doctrine, which Calvin refutes in the very same section Armstrong cites in the Institutes to support his claim.

That’s irrelevant. My subject matter is what Calvin believed: stuff that we Catholics can and would agree with. It is irrelevant that he disagreed with us on many things, too. Any idiot with an IQ higher than a pencil eraser and the slightest acquaintance with the usual debates knows that.

Calvin makes the distinction between biblical grounds and Papal grounds for excommunication. Armstrong fails to make that distinction but rather engages in the logical fallacy of hasty generalization by attributing to Calvin an erroneous position he never held. Armstrong states, “Calvin thought that the Church had the power of excommunication.”

Yes, he did! He stated as much. It’s irrelevant what grounds he gives. I was merely noting that he believed in the concept.

The context in which Armstrong uses “Church” is the Roman Catholic Church. That is not the context in which Calvin uses “Church.” Rather, Calvin uses the term “Church” in its more biblical sense of the Church Universal. You misunderstand Calvin’s use of the word.

Once again, you don’t get it. My points do not presuppose an identical conception of what the Church is; only that Calvin believes there is such thing as a “Church”: which he defines a certain way. None of my points are refuted due to this. It has nothing to do with my arguments.

In fact, in the subsequent paragraph, Calvin thoroughly refutes the Roman Catholic doctrine after having grounded his own teaching in the Scriptures, which he claims the Romans Catholic Church has not.

Of course he does. This has nothing to do with the fact that Calvin and Catholics also agree on many particulars.

Calvin always associates the Roman Catholic Church with the Papacy or Holy See as he does in the following statement:

On these two passages, which I think I have briefly, as well as familiarly and truly expounded, these madmen, without any discrimination, as they are borne along by their spirit of giddiness, attempt to found at one time confession, at another excommunication, at another jurisdiction, at another the right of making laws, at another indulgences. The former passage they adduce for the purpose of rearing up the primacy of the Roman See. So well known are the keys to those who have thought proper to fit them with locks and doors, that you would say their whole life had been spent in the mechanic art.

(Calvin, John, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 11, 2, last paragraph (Kindle Locations 22391-22395)

Of course he does. It’s neither here nor there; has nothing to do with my paper.

You need to obtain a copy of Calvin’s Institutes yourself and read it, because you are also reading Calvin out of context. I have both the Kindle version and hard copy, which I have read a number of times over the past 20-25 years, so that I know well what Calvin taught and did not teach.

I have read it (I know you were replying to [Name] here). I have the 1960 edition in hardback and used the 19th century version online for my two books criticizing Calvin’s views. I agree that you know what Calvin believed. Your problem is in understanding logic and in lack of comprehension of an argument that presupposes it.

Let Armstrong speak for himself and clarify his position.

Always glad to do so! Can’t wait for your reply!

I will not bicker over someone’s interpretation of the errors of Armstrong (secondary source) when I have the primary source in front of me (Calvin). For someone whom you claim knows the Reformed doctrines well, Armstrong fails to show it in his criticism of Calvin. Armstrong only shows that he does not have a sound grasp of Calvin’s doctrines at all or of Reformed theology.

“AFBooks” (Always Fallacious Books”?) only shows that he doesn’t have the slightest idea of the nature of my argument here, and so he relentlessly fires blanks at straw men, to the amusement of all who grasp logic and “get” how I used it in the piece. But I am confident that with patient clarification, you will eventually rise to at least an elementary understanding of it.

Once you see that I am not trying to pretend that Calvin was a Catholic, the blinders will hopefully fall and we can have a real conversation and not this patent foolishness.

Dave, you can write all the diatribes you wish, but they prove nothing except that you misunderstand Calvin BECAUSE you misread him. There is no Protestant scholar that agrees with you. Oh, that’s right, you cite no scholastic works.

RIDICULE OF OTHERS ON YOUR PART IS VERY IMMATURE. How do you sleep at night with all your unconfessed sins?

You continue to embarrass yourself with personal attacks. You are wrong and I am done with your barrage of personal attacks. They only show that when logic and reason fail you, you resort to demeaning those who disagree with you with personal attacks. Such defensiveness. Why don’t you go read some real scholarship of some 36 biblical There are over 50 scholars who have written on Roman Catholicism and close to 100 scholars who have noted John Calvin. Afterwards, write an article interacting with them. I doubt you will get published there.

Bye bye. Be sure to close the door on your way out.

Not to worry. I only discourse with grown-ups and those who know what they are talking about. Have fun writing fiction.

* * * * * 

Yes, most of these quotes are horribly out of context: particularly baptism and Peter. I wonder if he actually read the sections he cited.

Read my reply to the guy before you. Thanks. I’ve not only read the Institutes, but replied to much of it.

With papers of this sort, there are always those who massively misunderstand. You appear to be in that number, and so we get silly attacks rather than relevant, on-topic argument.

The issue I have with this blog post is not the fact that Calvin, for instance, agrees that the roman bishop had a large role in history. The issue is that you remove the quote from the larger arguments he’s making. So you’re pulling a quote about the roman bishop from a larger section on why the Roman bishop doesn’t have universal jurisdiction.

Or say, baptism. Presbyterians historically have a high view of it. The Westminster even calls baptism “efficacious”. But it isn’t in the way Catholics define it.

So when I read this, all I see is quotes that are hacked up and pulled out of context. And this is not responsible or fair. It’s leveraging a quote to further your agenda.

My quote has nothing to do with universal jurisdiction in Calvin’s time. It was what I stated it was (as already explained): “Calvin accepted the primacy of the Roman Church in early Christian history.”

Thus, there is no need to provide more context, because the context has nothing whatever to do with my point, or whether it was valid or not. What I cited proved what I am contending.

When a critic has no rational argument, they always go to the canard of “out of context.” But even if I granted that in this case, your argument makes no sense.

Likewise, with your second argument regarding baptism. I never said that Calvin’s view was identical with ours. And I did say in the intro:

I don’t intend to imply that Calvin agrees with Catholics in every jot and tittle of all the following categories. What is agreed-upon is what is actually stated in these particular comments, which may sometimes be a part of a doctrine or practice. Two parties can agree, for example, on the basic fundamentals of a question, and then go on to differ on more minute particulars that each feels are a logical extension of the premises.

Bottom line: your “argument” here is non-existent. It has no basis and has no force.

Need I remind you that the title Of your post is: 15 catholic beliefs of Calvin? One of two things is true: either the title is intentionally
misleading– “click bait”–or your quotes are misleading. My response that your quotes are out of context is absolutely valid.

Yes, “Catholic” is in quotes; and then I make it crystal clear in the intro, what I am claiming. But still, some people don’t get it.

Listening to you, someone might think I had titled my piece, “Top 15 Reasons for Believing that Calvin was a Catholic.”

Now you descend to extreme attacks on the integrity of my work, if not also my person (implying quite possible intentional deception), and that is ban-worthy, so bye bye.

May God bless you with all good things.

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