These replies are more in-depth than what was eventually compiled in my book, Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin. I literally responded line-by-line to almost all of Book IV of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, which runs about 500 pages. The original series (#1-55) was completed in 2009, for Calvin’s 500th birthday. I have slightly revised and abridged them, and added or updated links. I have since added some others as well.
John Calvin is just about the best debater that Protestants have, in their entire history.
I’ll be utilizing for my purposes, the edition translated by Henry Beveridge for the Calvin Translation Society in 1846, from the 1559 edition in Latin; reprinted by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1995, and available online.
My biggest interest lies in Book IV: Of the Holy Catholic Church. This is where the real contrast between Calvinism and Catholicism is most evident. I like to go right to the heart of any given issue, and that’s located here, in my opinion.
A few (minority anti-Catholic type) Reformed Protestants, familiar with my apologetic work and highly critical of it, have questioned whether I am qualified at all to undertake such a project as this.
My response has been twofold. I stated, first of all, that if I were as profoundly ignorant and underinformed and unqualified as they made out, then Calvinists had nothing whatever to fear from this book, or the larger set of online replies, as they would be their own refutation, and self-evidently absurd.
Their very protest, then, seemed to suggest that they feared such a reply far more than their words were letting on. Why worry about it? I can do no harm to their cause if they are correct about my alleged utter lack of qualifications.
The second defense I made was to appeal to Calvin’s own claims for his work, and its intended audience. It was not supposed to be for scholars and theologians only, but rather, primarily for students and laymen (just as St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica was intended as introductory instruction). He expresses this in several introductory comments to the Institutes. For example:
My intention was only to furnish a kind of rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness. . . . in a simple and elementary form adapted for instruction. . . . what I have here given may be regarded as a summary . . .(Prefatory Address, Basle, 1536)
Now, if we are dealing with an introductory work written to the masses (not scholars and academics): for folks just starting to get acquainted with Scripture, then certainly it is not out of bounds for a non-scholar apologist like myself, with over thirty years of experience of intense study of theology and Scripture, to undertake a popular-level critique of the popular-level introductory work.
The Institutes is widely used to this day. Since it is so critical of Catholicism, it needs to be answered from a Catholic perspective. I have tried to keep polemics to a bare minimum. That was assuredly somewhat difficult, because Calvin is often highly provocative and polemical: plain insulting; but my goal was to stick to rational arguments from Scripture and history.
I hope my reply is helpful for readers who seek to understand the difference between the two theological systems and competing claims. May God the Holy Spirit, our Helper, guide us all into all truth, and grant us the will, by His grace, to want to always seek truth.
#1: The Elect [4-27-09 / rev. 3-3-17]
#2: Infallible Church Authority [4-28-09 / rev. 3-3-17]
#3: Synergism, Grace Alone, & the Elect [4-29-09 / rev. 4-3-17]
#4: “Primary” & “Secondary” Doctrines [4-29-09 / rev. 4-3-17]
#5: Christian Sinners & “Puritanical” Fanaticism [4-29-09 / rev. 12-17-18]
#6: Sectarianism & Denominationalism [5-15-09 / rev. 12-19-18]
#7: Absolution, Sanctification, & Forgiveness [5-15-09 / rev. 12-19-18]
#8: Sinners in the Church & God’s Mercy [5-15-09 / rev. 12-31-18]
#9: Indefectibility of the One True Church [5-16-09 / rev. 12-31-18]
#10: Indefectibility & Apostolic Succession [5-18-09 / rev. 1-2-19]
#11: Sacrifice of the Mass / Cyprian’s Ecclesiology [5-10-09 / rev. 1-3-19]
#12: Bishops, Church Offices, & Paul’s Call [5-20-09 / rev. 1-3-19]
#13: Biblical & Patristic Basis for the Papacy [5-21-09 / rev. 1-4-19]
#14: Petrine & Roman Primacy & Papal Succession [6-13-09 / rev. 1-8-19]
#15: Peter & the Papacy & the Early Church [6-14-09 / rev. 1-8-19]
#16: Popes & Early Ecumenical Councils [6-15-09 / rev. 1-9-19]
#17: Fathers (Esp. Jerome, Gregory) & the Papacy [6-15-09 / rev. 1-9-19]
#18: Roman Primacy / Popes & Collegiality [6-15-09 / rev. 1-10-19]
#19: Constantine / Universal Papal Jurisdiction [6-25-09 / rev. 1-10-19]
#20: Gregory the Great & Papal Supremacy [6-25-09 / rev. 1-12-19]
#21: St. Bernard & the Papacy / Pope as “Head” [6-27-09 / rev. 1-12-19]
#22: Some Bad Popes = Ditch the Papacy? [6-29-09 / rev. 1-15-19]
#23: Popes Claimed to be God? / Pope as Antichrist [6-30-09 / rev. 1-15-19]
#24: Bad Popes / Indefectibility / John XXII [6-30-09 / rev. 1-16-19]
#25: Tradition, Succession, Apostolic Deposit [7-1-09 / rev. 1-16-19]
#26: Authority and Infallibility of Councils [8-25-09 / rev. 1-18-19]
#27: Tradition, Church, & the Rule of Faith [7-6-09 / rev. 1-23-19]
#28: Catholic Authority and Conscience [7-16-09 / rev. 1-23-19]
#29: Unbiblical Antipathy to Holy Water [8-25-09 / rev. 1-24-19]
#30: Lent: Unbiblical & Irrational Antipathy [9-15-09 / rev. 1-24-19]
#31: Unbiblical Rejection of Priestly Celibacy [9-15-09 / rev. 1-25-19]
#32: Unbiblical Opposition to Priest’s Vows [9-21-09 / rev. 1-25-19]
#33: Evangelical Counsels & Monasticism [9-22-09 / rev. 1-26-19]
#34: Sacraments: Bible & Church Fathers [9-25-09 / rev. 1-28-19]
#35: Merit & Human Cooperation with God [10-19-09 / rev. 1-29-19]
#36: Sacraments & the Church Fathers [10-19-09 / rev. 1-29-19]
#37: Sacramentalism & Ex Opere Operato [10-21-09 / rev. 1-30-19]
#38: Radically Anti-Traditional Sacramentalism [10-27-09 / rev. 1-30-19]
#39: Baptism, Regeneration, Assurance? of Salvation [11-16-09 / rev. 1-31-19]
#40: Original Sin, Imputation, & Baptism [11-17-09 / rev. 1-31-19]
#41: Eucharist: Physical, Symbolic, or “Mystical”? [11-24-09 / rev. 1-31-19]
#42: Transubstantiation: Bible & the Fathers [11-25-09 / rev. 2-1-19]
#43: Eucharist: Ubiquity, Signs, Lutheranism, Etc. [11-27-09 / rev. 2-2-19]
#44: Eucharist: Rationalism, Nestorianism, & Docetism [11-30-09 / rev. 2-2-19]
#45: Bizarre “Eucharistic Christology” vs. Tertullian [12-1-09 / rev. 2-3-19]
#46: Eucharist: Incoherent “Spiritual Presence” [12-2-09 / rev. 2-3-19]
#47: Eucharistic Adoration: Idolatry or Biblical? [12-2-09 / rev. 2-4-19]
#48: Eucharist: Radical Symbolism & Docetism [12-3-09 / rev. 2-4-19]
#49: Sacrifice of the Mass and NT Altars [12-9-09 / rev. 2-5-19]
#50: Confirmation in the Bible & the Fathers [12-17-09 / rev. 2-5-19]
#51: Sacrament of Penance: Man-Made Tradition? [12-21-09 / rev. 2-6-19]
#52: Sacrament of Anointing: Yay or Nay? [12-21-09 / rev. 2-7-19]
#53: Unbiblical Antipathy to Miracles & Exorcism [12-22-09 / rev. 2-7-19]
#54: Tonsure, Holy Oil, and “Judaizing”? [12-22-09 / rev. 2-8-19]
#55: Sacrament of Matrimony: Bible & Fathers [12-23-09 / rev. 2-8-19]
#56: Mortal and Venial Sin [2012; posted on 8-20-20]
#57: Prayer for the Dead [2012; posted on 8-20-20]
#58: Indulgences & Distribution of Grace [2012; posted on 8-25-20]
#59: Church Authority & the Canon [2012; posted on 9-2-20]
#60: Purgatory in the Bible [1-15-21]
#61: Predestination to Hell? [1-20-21]
Photo credit: Title page of 1541 edition of French Institution de la religion chrestienne (Institutes of the Christian Religion) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]