Catholic Authority and Conscience (vs. Calvin #28)

Catholic Authority and Conscience (vs. Calvin #28) January 23, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 10:1-7


Book IV


1. The power of the Church in enacting laws. This made a source of human traditions. Impiety of these traditions.
We come now to the second part of power, which, according to them, consists in the enacting of laws, from which source innumerable traditions have arisen, to be as many deadly snares to miserable souls. For they have not been more scrupulous than the Scribes and Pharisees in laying burdens on the shoulders of others, which they would not touch with their finger (Mt 23:4; Luke 11:16). I have elsewhere shown (Book 3 chap. 4 sec. 4-7) how cruel murder they commit by their doctrine of auricular confession. 

See my paper: Formal Human Forgiveness of Sins in the Bible.

The same violence is not apparent in other laws, but those which seem most tolerable press tyrannically on the conscience. I say nothing as to the mode in which they adulterate the worship of God, and rob God himself, who is the only Lawgiver, of his right.

Impressive polemics; much less impressive “argumentation” . . . This is how propaganda functions: repeat something enough times and a certain number of uncritical minds will accept it, no matter how unsubstantiated.

The power we have now to consider is, whether it be lawful for the Church to bind laws upon the conscience? 

Of course it is.

In this discussion, civil order is not touched; but the only point considered is, how God may be duly worshipped according to the rule which he has prescribed, and how our spiritual liberty, with reference to God, may remain unimpaired. In ordinary language, the name of human traditions is given to all decrees concerning the worship of God, which men have issued without the authority of his word. 

Calvin again merely assumes what he needs to prove. I’ll wait for some semblance of an argument to counter-respond.

We contend against these, not against the sacred and useful constitutions of the Church, which tend to preserve discipline, or decency, or peace. 

Okay; the outlines of some type of rational argument for ecclesiology and discipline is now laid out. Calvin’s task will be to distinguish this legitimate use from supposed “Roman tyranny” and so forth.

Our aim is to curb the unlimited and barbarous empire usurped over souls by those who would be thought pastors of the Church, but who are in fact its most cruel murderers. 

Another impressive rhetorical flourish . . .

They say that the laws which they enact are spiritual, pertaining to the soul, and they affirm that they are necessary to eternal life. But thus the kingdom of Christ, as I lately observed, is invaded; thus the liberty, which he has given to the consciences of believers, is completely oppressed and overthrown. 

Certainly the Church, whatever it is, will have laws, so this sweeping, disagreeing language is absurd.

I say nothing as to the great impiety with which, to sanction the observance of their laws, they declare that from it they seek forgiveness of sins, righteousness and salvation, while they make the whole sum of religion and piety to consist in it. 

Catholicism does not teach works-righteousness, as Calvin seems to think.

What I contend for is, that necessity ought not to be laid on consciences in matters in which Christ has made them free; and unless freed, cannot, as we have previously shown (Book 3 chap. 19), have peace with God. 

And of course Calvin needs to show from Scripture where and how men are free. We can easily demonstrate that Protestant “freedom” has in fact, extended to almost anything in the ensuing 500 years.

They must acknowledge Christ their deliverer, as their only king, and be ruled by the only law of liberty—namely, the sacred word of the Gospel—if they would retain the grace which they have once received in Christ: they must be subject to no bondage, be bound by no chains.

Calvin (as I understand, anyway) doesn’t believe in antinomianism, so this needs to be qualified and specified a great deal more. I trust that this will occur in the sections to come. Thus far, no argument . . .

2. Many of the Papistical traditions not only difficult, but impossible to be observed.


These Solons, indeed, imagine that their constitutions are laws of liberty, a pleasant yoke, a light burden: but who sees not that this is mere falsehood. They themselves, indeed, feel not the burden of their laws. Having cast off the fear of God, they securely and assiduously disregard their own laws as well as those which are divine.

Catholic laws vs. “fear of God”: a very convenient false dichotomy, in the service of anti-Catholic propaganda and polemics . . .

Those, however, who feel any interest in their salvation, are far from thinking themselves free so long as they are entangled in these snares. We see how great caution Paul employed in this matter, not venturing to impose a fetter in any one thing, and with good reason: he certainly foresaw how great a wound would be inflicted on the conscience if these things should be made necessary which the Lord had left free. On the contrary, it is scarcely possible to count the constitutions which these men have most grievously enforced, under the penalty of eternal death, and which they exact with the greatest rigour, as necessary to salvation. 

The Catholic can hardly respond unless specifics are provided.

And while very many of them are most difficult of observance, the whole taken together are impossible; so great is the mass. 

That’s what many ancient Hebrews used to say about the 613 Mosaic laws, but God didn’t seem to think their observance was “impossible”; or else He wouldn’t have made them binding and non-optional.

How, then, possibly can those, on whom this mountain of difficulty lies, avoid being perplexed with extreme anxiety, and filled with terror? 

How, indeed?! Only by becoming a good Calvinist Protestant, can we mere mortals avoid “extreme anxiety” and “terror.” The choice before us couldn’t be any clearer than it is.

My intention here then is, to impugn constitutions of this description; constitutions enacted for the purpose of binding the conscience inwardly before God, and imposing religious duties, as if they enjoined things necessary to salvation.

Okay; let’s see what Calvin comes up with.

3. That the question may be more conveniently explained, nature of conscience must be defined.
Many are greatly puzzled with this question, from not distinguishing, with sufficient care, between what is called the external forum and the forum of conscience (Book 3 chap. 19 sec 15). Moreover, the difficulty is increased by the terms in which Paul enjoins obedience to magistrates, “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:5); and from which it would follow, that civil laws also bind the conscience. But if this were so, nothing that we have said of spiritual government, in the last chapter, and are to say in this, would stand. To solve this difficulty, we must first understand what is meant by conscience. The definition must be derived from the etymology of the term. As when men, with the mind and intellect, apprehend the knowledge of things, they are thereby said to know, and hence the name of science or knowledge is used; so, when they have, in addition to this, a sense of the divine judgment, as a witness not permitting them to hide their sins, but bringing them as criminals before the tribunal of the judge, that sense is called conscience. 

Yes; but our consciences are clearly formed by many outside influences: upbringing, culture, friends, moral teachings inculcated in the normal course of life, and the Bible itself and whatever ecclesiastical authority we attempt to abide by. The Catholic argues that the Church is fundamental in forming an individual conscience, and that the two should not and will not conflict. If it falls back completely on the individual, on the other hand (as Protestant premises require), we have the same unsolvable problems we always run into: what to do when opinions contradict; both claim to be biblical, etc.?

Why is it that Calvin can’t see the obvious difficulties in practice of the extreme individualistic positions that he wishes to stake out? It sounds fine in theory. It is only in practice that it almost immediately breaks down. But whatever is unworkable in practice (and what creates more problems than it ever resolves) is a questionable theory in the first place.

For it occupies a kind of middle place between God and man, not suffering man to suppress what he knows in himself, but following him out until it bring him to conviction. This is what Paul means, when he says that conscience bears witness, “our thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing each other” (Rom. 2:15).

St. Paul doesn’t relegate doctrine to conscience alone (theoretically tied to the Bible alone), as Calvin does (Acts 16:4 alone proves this, among many other passages). To the contrary, Paul is quite clear that there is one doctrine, one truth, one “faith” (“the faith”) and that this is in line with the Church (not — ultimately — logically or epistemologically separate from the Church, as in Protestantism). Obviously, whatever the individual arrives at through conscience, St. Paul would say has to be in line with “the faith,” “the truth,” “tradition,.” “the gospel,” etc. And thus we are right back to unavoidable, binding Church authority:

Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

Romans 2:8 but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

Romans 16:17 . . . take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.

Galatians 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Ephesians 3:10 . . . through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

Colossians 1:23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, . . .

Colossians 2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.

1 Timothy 1:2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: . . .

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

1 Timothy 4:3 . . . those who believe and know the truth. (cf. 4:1; 4:6; 5:8; 6:10, 12 ,21)

2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. (cf. 2:18, 25; 3:7-8; 4:4)

2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Titus 3:15 . . . Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. (cf. 1:1)

Simple knowledge, therefore, might exist in a man, as it were, shut up, and therefore the sense which sits men before the judgment-seat of God has been placed over him as a sentinel, to observe and spy out all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried in darkness. 

Without the authoritative guidance of the Church, men will always differ. Great men did this even about the very books that constitute Scripture. Without a Church proclamation, the canon of the New Testament would have henceforth been uncertain, with many variations.

Hence the old proverb, Conscience is a thousand witnesses. 

Here’s another proverb: “a thousand consciences formed without the guidance of Holy Mother Church, will form 1001 opinions, just as Luther said, ‘there are as many sects as there are heads.’ ”

For this reason, Peter also uses the “answer of a good conscience towards God” (1 Pet. 3:21); 

In the very same passage, Peter teaches baptismal regeneration: an ancient, apostolic, patristic, biblical doctrine that Calvin, with the aid of his all-too-fertile conscience, denied:

1 Peter 3:20-21 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. [21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

The same Peter talks about “the truth”:

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart.

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.

2 Peter 2:1-2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled.

And he makes other casual dogmatic statements, suggesting a strong Church authority and a binding tradition in addition to conscience and the Bible:

2 Peter 2:21 . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.

2 Peter 3:1-2 This is now the second letter that I have written to you, beloved, and in both of them I have aroused your sincere mind by way of reminder; that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.

for tranquillity of mind, when, persuaded of the grace of Christ, we with boldness present ourselves before God. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, that we have “no more conscience of sins,” that we are freed or acquitted, so that sin no longer accuses us (Heb. 10:2).

This is also within the context of a teaching Church, that can bind the same consciences:

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.

Thus the author of Hebrews, like Sts. Peter and Paul, maintains the “three-legged stool” view of the Catholic Church through the ages, not the private judgment / absolute supremacy of individual conscience / sola Scriptura position of Calvin and his Protestant comrades.

4. Definition of conscience explained. Examples in illustration of the definition.

Wherefore, as works have respect to men, so conscience bears reference to God; and hence a good conscience is nothing but inward integrity of heart. In this sense, Paul says, that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). He afterwards, in the same chapter, shows how widely it differs from intellect, saying, the, “some having put away” a good conscience, “concerning faith have made shipwreck.” For by these words he intimates, that it is a living inclination to worship God, a sincere desire to live piously and holily. Sometimes, indeed, it is extended to men also, as when Paul declares, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). But this is said, because the benefits of a good conscience flow forth and reach even to men. Properly speaking, however, it respects God alone, as I have already said. Hence a law may be said to bind the conscience when it simply binds a man without referring to men, or taking them into account. For example, God enjoins us not only to keep our mind chaste and pure from all lust, but prohibits every kind of obscenity in word, and all external lasciviousness. This law my conscience is bound to observe, though there were not another man in the world. Thus he who behaves intemperately not only sins by setting a bad example to his brethren, but stands convicted in his conscience before God. Another rule holds in the case of things which are in themselves indifferent. For we ought to abstain when they give offence, but conscience is free. Thus Paul says of meat consecrated to idols, “If any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake;” “conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other” (1 Cor. 10:28, 29). A believer would sin, if, after being warned, he should still eat such kind of meat. But however necessary abstinence may be in respect of a brother, as prescribed by the Lord, conscience ceases not to retain its liberty. We see how the law, while binding the external work, leaves the conscience free.

St. Paul and other writers, again, do not disconnect an informed Christian conscience from the guidance of the Church:

Acts 23:1, 6-8 And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” . . . [6] But when Paul perceived that one part were Sad’ducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.” [7] And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sad’ducees; and the assembly was divided. [8] For the Sad’ducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Paul here shows exactly what he means by having a “good conscience.” It was formed in the context of tradition. He appeals to a doctrinal school (Pharisaism) and identifies himself with it (over against the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, and angels). That was what it meant to live “before God in all good conscience.” It can’t be divorced from binding doctrines. Yet that is exactly what Calvin is driving at, by stressing the radically autonomous individual conscience and the corresponding notion that there are no binding decrees of the Church that can be considered infallible and unquestionable. It’s exactly the same in the context of a passage that Calvin mentions above:

Acts 24:14-16 But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets, [15] having a hope in God which these themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. [16] So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men.

Having a “clear conscience toward God” is directly tied, in Paul’s mind, to observance of the Law (a binding thing), and doctrines like the general resurrection. Not just the Church, but even secular rulers are to be obeyed “for the sake of conscience”:

Romans 13:1-7 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Paul ties in conscience with “the truth” and “doctrine” and “divine training” and “the faith”:

2 Corinthians 4:2 We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

1 Timothy 1:3-7 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; [5] whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. [6] Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, [7] desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.

1 Timothy 3:9 they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, [2] through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared,

Titus 1:13-15 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, [14] instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth. [15] To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted.

The writer of Hebrews also follows suit:

Hebrews 10:22-23 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. [23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;

Hebrews 13:17-18 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. [18] Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

5. Paul’s doctrine of submission to magistrates for conscience sake, gives no countenance to the Popish doctrine of the obligation of traditions.

Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men but with God only. 

But that is the whole point. What God commands, we are not at liberty to disobey. And these commands include submission to the Church and Tradition.

Hence the common distinction between the earthly forum and the forum of conscience. When the whole world was enveloped in the thickest darkness of ignorance, it was still held (like a small ray of light which remained unextinguished) that conscience was superior to all human judgments. Although this, which was acknowledged in word, was afterwards violated in fact, yet God was pleased that there should even then exist an attestation to liberty, exempting the conscience from the tyranny of man. 

Nothing is more a “tyranny of man,” in terms of theology, than requiring each person to have to figure everything out on their own, without any authoritative Church.

But we have not yet explained the difficulty which arises from the words of Paul. For if we must obey princes not only from fear of punishment but for conscience sake, it seems to follow, that the laws of princes have dominion over the conscience. If this is true, the same thing must be affirmed of ecclesiastical laws. 

Exactly; as I argued above, before even reading this.

I answer, that the first thing to be done here is to distinguish between the genus and the species. For though individual laws do not reach the conscience, yet we are bound by the general command of God, which enjoins us to submit to magistrates. And this is the point on which Paul’s discussion turns—viz. that magistrates are to be honoured, because they are ordained of God (Rom. 13:1). 

So the authority of the Church is even lower than that of the state? That would fit into the history of caesaro-papism of both Lutherans and Calvinists. It’s a manifestly false notion.

Meanwhile, he does not at all teach that the laws enacted by them reach to the internal government of the soul, since he everywhere proclaims that the worship of God, and the spiritual rule of living righteously, are superior to all the decrees of men. 

That’s right. No Christian is bound to obey an unjust law.

Another thing also worthy of observation, and depending on what has been already said, is, that human laws, whether enacted by magistrates or by the Church, are necessary to be observed (I speak of such as are just and good), but do not therefore in themselves bind the conscience, because the whole necessity of observing them respects the general end, and consists not in the things commanded. 

But this is not what St. Paul stated, which was: “Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” (Romans 13:5).

Very different, however, is the case of those which prescribe a new form of worshipping God, and introduce necessity into things that are free.

The Protestants, of course, did that, not Catholics. The sacrifice of the mass is the ancient Christian form of worship, not the bare symbolism of Zwingli and the Anabaptists or the self-contradictory “mysticism” of Calvin.

6. The question stated. A brief mode of deciding it.

Such, however, are what in the present day are called ecclesiastical constitutions by the Papacy, and are brought forward as part of the true and necessary worship of God. But as they are without number, so they form innumerable fetters to bind and ensnare the soul. Though, in expounding the law, we have adverted to this subject (Book 3 chap. 4 sec. 6), yet as this is more properly the place for a full discussion of it, I will now study to give a summary of it as carefully as I can. I shall, however, omit the branch relating to the tyranny with which false bishops arrogate to themselves the right of teaching whatever they please, having already considered it as far as seemed necessary, but shall treat at length of the power which they claim of enacting laws. The pretext, then, on which our false bishops burden the conscience with new laws is, that the Lord has constituted them spiritual legislators, and given them the government of the Church. Hence they maintain that everything which they order and prescribe must, of necessity, be observed by the Christian people, that he who violates their commands is guilty of a twofold disobedience, being a rebel both against God and the Church. 

Such laws have to be in accord with what has always been believed in the Church. This is where Protestant novelties miserably fail the test. A Protestant lecturing a Catholic for having “man-made doctrines” is a bit like a tiger condemning a lion for having stripes.

Assuredly, if they were true bishops, I would give them some authority in this matter, not so much as they demand, but so much as is requisite for duly arranging the polity of the Church; 

In other words, as Calvin defines that . . .

but since they are anything but what they would be thought, they cannot possibly assume anything to themselves, however little, without being in excess. But as this also has been elsewhere shown, let us grant for the present, that whatever power true bishops possess justly belongs to them,

Note that this is a questionable proposition for Calvin: that bishops actually have power, as if the Bible doesn’t clearly teach that they do.

still I deny that they have been set over believers as legislators to prescribe a rule of life at their own hands, or bind the people committed to them to their decrees. 

If the Bible does it, why cannot a bishop? As long as the decree is legitimately apostolic and biblical, what is the objection? This is what the Church is for: to guide God’s children.

When I say this, I mean that they are not at all entitled to insist that whatever they devise without authority from the word of God shall be observed by the Church as matter of necessity. 

But no one disagrees with that. The crux of the matter is whether any given law is “from the word of God” or not. Calvin assumes that Catholic laws are not (unless they agree with his brand of Protestantism). But who gave him authority over the Church and who made him the supreme interpreter of Holy Scripture?

Since such power was unknown to the apostles, and was so often denied to the ministers of the Church by our Lord himself, I wonder how any have dared to usurp, and dare in the present day to defend it, without any precedent from the apostles, and against the manifest prohibition of God.

I will look for some actual arguments from Calvin, to interact with. This section was mostly empty rhetoric and polemics.

7. A perfect rule of life in the Law. God our only Lawgiver.


Everything relating to a perfect rule of life the Lord has so comprehended in his law, that he has left nothing for men to add to the summary there given. His object in doing this was, first, that since all rectitude of conduct consists in regulating all our actions by his will as a standard, he alone should be regarded as the master and guide of our life; 

This proves too much, as it would wipe out any Church authority. It’s the usual “either/or” false dichotomy from Calvin.

and, secondly, that he might show that there is nothing which he more requires of us than obedience. For this reason James says, “He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law:” “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:11, 12). 

And the same James who wrote this was the bishop of Jerusalem.

We hear how God claims it as his own peculiar privilege to rule us by his laws. This had been said before by Isaiah, though somewhat obscurely, “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isa. 33:22). Both passages show that the power of life and death belongs to him who has power over the soul. Nay, James clearly expresses this. This power no man may assume to himself. 

Then why did Calvin give assent to the execution of Michael Servetus for heresy, and agree to many other justifiable scenarios of capital punishment  on account of heresy?

God, therefore, to whom the power of saving and destroying belongs, must be acknowledged as the only King of souls, or, as the words of Isaiah express it, he is our king and judge, and lawgiver and saviour. 

Moses was a lawgiver too:

Deuteronomy 31:9 And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. (cf. 31:24)

Joshua 1:7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

Joshua 22:5 Take good care to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you . . .

2 Chronicles 33:8 and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land which I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the ordinances given through Moses.”

2 Chronicles 34:14 . . . the book of the law of the LORD given through Moses.

Nehemiah 10:29 . . . God’s law which was given by Moses the servant of God . . .

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; . . .

John 7:19 Did not Moses give you the law?. . .

Hebrews 9:19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people . . .

So Peter, when he reminds pastors of their duty, exhorts them to feed the flock without lording it over the heritage (1 Pet. 5:2); meaning by heritage the body of believers. If we duly consider that it is unlawful to transfer to man what God declares to belong only to himself, we shall see that this completely cuts off all the power claimed by those who would take it upon them to order anything in the Church without authority from the word of God.

Again, Calvin attempts to cleverly equate all power in the Church with being “without authority from the word of God” but this begs the question (that is, it is “logically circular”). The question is which Church laws are consistent with the word of God, not whether any are. The technique of extreme, stark contrast seems to have worked well for Calvin, so he milked it for all it was worth. But it is so often blatantly fallacious reasoning.


(originally 7-16-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


"Just so you know Jimmy Bean, you’re WRONG. And your OP contradicts itself. Lastly, wether ..."

Pope Francis the “Heterodox Liberal” (?????)
"Perhaps I can re-ask the question via an example. From Matthew 27, and I'm sure ..."

Noah’s Flood: Not Anthropologically Universal + ..."
"Excellent question. The Church holds that the Bible is infallible, period.As to how to harmonize ..."

Noah’s Flood: Not Anthropologically Universal + ..."
"A text without a context is a pretext.So in terms of judging a man's ultimate ..."

Pope Francis the “Heterodox Liberal” (?????)

Browse Our Archives