Vs. Turretin #1: Communion of Saints 1 (Preliminaries)

Vs. Turretin #1: Communion of Saints 1 (Preliminaries) December 21, 2023

François Turretin (1623-1687) was a Genevan-Italian Reformed scholastic theologian and renowned defender of the Calvinistic (Reformed) orthodoxy represented by the Synod of Dort, and was one of the authors of the Helvetic Consensus (1675). He is generally considered to be the best Calvinist apologist besides John Calvin himself. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology (three volumes, Geneva, 1679–1685) used the scholastic method. “Elenctic” means “refuting an argument by proving the falsehood of its conclusion.” Turretin contended against the conflicting Christian  perspectives of Catholicism and Arminianism. It was a popular textbook; notably at Princeton Theological Seminary, until it was replaced by Charles Hodge‘s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. Turretin also greatly influenced the Puritans.

This is a reply to a portion of Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Vol. 2, Eleventh Topic: The Law of God, Seventh Question: The First Commandment), in which he addresses the communion of saints, including the invocation and veneration of saints. I utilize the edition translated by George Musgrave Giger and edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: 1992 / 1994 / 1997; 2320 pages). It uses the KJV for Bible verses. I will use RSV unless otherwise indicated.  All installments of this series of replies can be found on my Calvinism & General Protestantism web page, under the category, “Replies to Francois Turretin (1632-1687).” Turretin’s words will be in blue.


Is God alone to be worshipped and invoked? Or is it lawful to invoke and religiously worship deceased saints? We affirm the former and deny the latter against the papists.

As Turretin was well aware, Catholics distinguish between adoration, reserved for God, and veneration, which is more or less honoring the saints. “Worship” has a range of meaning in English. So, for example, in the ceremony of matrimony in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), are the words, “With this ring I thee wed: with my body I thee worship . . .”

I. By the first precept “thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the true object of religious worship is sanctioned.

Yes, of course. Christians are to be monotheists and adore God alone and accept or believe in no other (nonexistent) gods. Since there is no disagreement here, Turretin, in the final analysis, presupposes that any veneration collapses into (or at best “interferes” with) adoration meant for God alone. But this is untrue and is the fundamental error in play. It’s part and parcel of one of the most basic and repeated errors of Protestantism (especially Calvinism): its relentless “either/or” false dichotomies. In this instance, the mentality is seen in the belief that “if we worship God we can’t even honor or venerate anyone else, lest they become an idol. And we can’t invoke anyone but God.” I’ll be more than happy, as we proceed, to explain, with support from the Bible, why these premises are untrue.

Turretin shortly after brings up Galatians 4:8 (“. . . you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods”). Again, this is rank idolatry: making that which is not God in effect function as or replace God in ones religious practice, or as Turretin describes it: “what is not God is esteemed and served as God.” But the Catholic communion of saints is not the same thing as this blasphemous idolatry, because we simply aren’t replacing God with anyone or anything else. He mentions the “faith, adoration, and invocation due to God alone.” We agree that the first two are for God alone, but we deny that He is the only one who can be invoked, because the Bible teaches otherwise. Turretin assumes that this is the case, but what is his biblical proof for it? Perhaps later he attempts to produce that. I am answering as I read.

The papists sin in many ways about this: by the religious worship of creatures, angels, saints, relics, the host of the Mass, and of the pope himself. Thus they are guilty of not one kind of idolatry.

Where to start?! We don’t worship (in the sense he means: adoration) any of these persons or things, except for the consecrated host, which we believe to be Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus being God (as both sides agree), that’s not idolatry — it can’t possibly be idolatry — , because it’s directed at God Himself. So the argument there comes down to whether Jesus is truly, substantially present in the consecrated host and thus properly worshiped via the host as an image to focus attention on.

Even if the truth of the matter (assuming for the sake of argument) is that Jesus is not present in the consecrated host, it’s still not idolatry, because that sin has to do with the interior intentions of a person. He or she must be intending to place someone or something in the place of the true God. The Mass is not doing that at all. We’re not worshiping bread and wine. The whole point for us is that they miraculously transform into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. No Catholic who knows anything ever intended to, or actually did, worship a piece of mere bread or a cup of mere wine as God, which would indeed be idolatry.

Thus, this entire line of argument, insofar as it is applied to the Catholic Mass, is wrongheaded and a complete straw man. The statement above is a non sequitur, because the non-host items are never idolatrously worshiped by Catholics as God. Turretin seems confused about the very definition of idolatry. And this is elementary, so I must say that we appear to see an irrational and unbiblical bias affecting his thought processes. As so often with anti-Catholics, he is more so overreacting to Catholicism and its falsely alleged errors than arguing from the actual Bible.

Nor is eucharistic realism or adoration solely Catholic, by any stretch of the imagination. Martin Luther believed in the eucharistic real presence and even adoration of the consecrated host (he would bow before it), and regarded those who denied it, like Zwingli (and by logical extension, Calvinists and Turretin himself) as non-Christians and damned (e.g., “blasphemers and enemies of Christ”: Luther’s Works, Vol. 39, 302). This is why Calvin once referred to him as “half-papist,” and why Luther stated, “sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood” (Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528, in Luther’s Works, Vol. 37, 317).

II. The question is not whether the saints piously dying in the Lord are to be held in any respect and honor. We do not deny that they are to be honored by us according to the degree of their excellence, both by thinking highly of them as servants of God most happy and admitted into the fellowship of the Lord and by cherishing their memory with a grateful and pleasant recollection (Lk. 1:48; Mk. 14:9), extolling their conflicts and victories, preserving their doctrine, celebrating and imitating their virtues (Heb. 12:1), praising God in and for them and giving him thanks for raising up such for the good of his church. Rather the question is whether they are to be reverenced with religious worship properly so called.

Here we see a classic methodological and presuppositional error of anti-Catholics that I have observed a thousand times. They will accurately describe what we actually believe (the above virtually is a definition of Catholic veneration of saints), and then without missing a beat go on to falsely describe what they vainly imagine “Catholic beliefs” to be, and pretend that our actual beliefs are not what they are. In other words, they prefer to war against a straw man. It’s almost as if they want there to be more differences than there actually are, and to refuse to admit common ground when it exists. So they quixotically battle against fictional windmills of their own making. It gets very tiresome as an apologist having to deal with such nonsense over and over, even from very sharp and learned men like Turretin, but the good news is that it fully and decisively demonstrates the great weakness of the anti-Catholic polemic and enterprise.

. . . we think that care should be diligently taken that they be not worshipped to the injury of God.

No disagreement there. What we differ on is the definition of “injury of God.” We say that honoring God’s creatures is, in fact, ultimately honoring Him as their Creator and enabler — by His grace — of every good thing that they do. The praising of a masterpiece of art is the same as praising its creator. If we praise the Mona Lisa, we praise da Vinci, etc. But Protestant “either/or” thinking can’t comprehend this Or rather, precludes it), oddly enough.

Nay, we think grievous injury is done to them by those who turn them into idols and abuse the friends of God to provoke him to jealousy.

He’s assuming what he needs to prove. I await such proof as I read on, but doubt that I will see it. I’ve been through this routine many times before. Anti-Catholic polemics is usually like an onion. One keeps peeling it, hoping to get to a core, only to find out that there is none. Catholic apologetics has a core, like an apple. The anti-Catholic slings around the word “idolatry” so ubiquitously, yet often neglects proving what he asserts by rational argument and example. He knows his readers will accept without question any accusation levied against the Catholic Church, and this is a large part of the problem. Not enough critical feedback is received or interacted with. Consequently, the methodology and the thinking become very sloppy, and is, therefore, easily refuted.
The question is whether they are to be reverenced, not with that respect of love and fellowship exhibited to holy men of God in this life on account of imitation, but with a sacred worship of piety on account of religion . . . 
Turretin refers to “the sacrifices and invocations presented to” saints and then cites St. Augustine, from Contra Faustus, Book XX, 21. If we take a look at that, we see that Augustine is a good Catholic, as always (even though Calvinists invariably pretend that he is “one of them”).
Augustine states that Catholics are “paying honor to the memory of the martyrs” over against “the accusation of Faustus, that we worship them.” Faustus is arguing just as Protestants do. The heretic is analogous to Protestants, as Newman famously argued in his Apologia pro vita sua. Turretin claimed that Catholics make “sacrifices . . . to the saints. Augustine refutes this false accusation:
It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saints’ burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to you, O Peter! Or O Paul! Or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned. The emotion is increased by the associations of the place, and love is excited both towards those who are our examples, and towards Him by whose help we may follow such examples. We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, . . .
Augustine then distinguishes between adoration and worship of God and the veneration of saints:
What is properly divine worship, which the Greeks call latria, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. To this worship belongs the offering of sacrifices; as we see in the word idolatry, which means the giving of this worship to idols. Accordingly we never offer, or require any one to offer, sacrifice to a martyr, or to a holy soul, or to any angel. Any one falling into this error is instructed by doctrine, either in the way of correction or of caution. For holy beings themselves, whether saints or angels, refuse to accept what they know to be due to God alone.
[T]he question is whether they are to be invoked as our mediators and intercessors. Nor only as intercessors who may obtain for us by their prayers and merits the blessings asked from them; but as the bestowers of them . . . 
This gets into the massive scriptural motif of the prayers of righteous men having greater power (Jas 5:14-18), which I examined at great length. This is why we ask saints in heaven to intercede, because their prayers to God have a far greater effect or efficacy than ours do. I summarized the biblical data as follows:
We conclude that it’s best to “go straight to God” in prayer, unless there happens to be a person more righteous than we are, who is willing to make the same prayer request. Then the Bible recommends that we ask them to intercede for us or any righteous cause, rather than asking God directly.
Turretin questions whether anyone but God can be involved. The Bible contains a very clear, undeniable example of this, straight from the mouth of Jesus. It’s in the story (not parable) of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16). It presents the rich man making two petitionary requests to Abraham, not God. I recently summarized what is to be concluded from the information we have in this remarkable passage, and it is very unProtestant indeed:

Luke 16:24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Abraham says no (16:25-26), just as God will say no to a prayer not according to His will. He asks him again, begging (16:27-28). Abraham refuses again, saying (16:29): “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’” He asks a third time (16:30), and Abraham refuses again, reiterating the reason why (16:31).

How this supposedly does not support the principle of saints interceding and being able to intercede is a mystery to me. If we were not supposed to ask saints to pray for us, I think this story would be almost the very last way to make that supposed point. Abraham would simply have said, “you shouldn’t be asking me for anything; ask God!” In the same way, analogously, angels refuse worship when it is offered, because only God can be worshiped [I cited Rev 19:9-10 and 22:8-9].

St. Peter did the same thing [Acts 10:25-26]. So did St Paul and Barnabas [Acts 14:11-15]. If the true theology is that Abraham cannot be asked an intercessory request, then Abraham would have noted this and refused to even hear it. But instead he heard the request and said no. Jesus couldn’t possibly have taught a false principle.

Game, set, match, right in the Bible, from Jesus Himself. . . .

It’s not that Abraham couldn’t intercede (if that were true, he would have said so and Jesus would have made it clear), but that he wouldn’t intercede in this instance (i.e., he refused to answer the request). Refusing a request is not the same thing as not being able to grant the request. Otherwise, we would have to say that God is unable to answer a prayer request when He refuses one. . . .

Luke 16 (from Jesus) clearly teaches them. Hence lies the dilemma. It matters not if both men are dead; the rich man still can’t do what he did, according to Protestant categories of thought and theology.

Whether Dives [the “rich man”] was dead or not is irrelevant, since standard Protestant theology holds that no one can make such a request to anyone but God. He’s asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him, and then to his brothers, to prevent them from going to hell. That is very much prayer: asking for supernatural aid from those who have left the earthly life and attained sainthood and perfection, with God. . . .

Jesus told this story, and in the story is a guy praying to a dead man, to request things that the dead man appears to be able to fulfill by his own powers. That is quite sufficient to prove the point. . . .

In fact, God is never mentioned in the entire story (!!!) . . .

So why did Jesus teach in this fashion? Why did He teach that Dives was asking Abraham to do things that Protestant theology would hold that only God can do? And why is the whole story about him asking Abraham for requests, rather than going directly to God and asking Him: which would seem to be required by [Protestant] theology? . . .

This just isn’t how it’s supposed to be, from a Protestant perspective. All the emphases are wrong, and there are serous theological errors, committed by Jesus Himself (i.e., from the erroneous Protestant perspective).

In another similar paper, I described the import of this story as follows:
Abraham is not supposed to be able to fulfill intercessory requests in the manner of Jesus, according to Protestant theology.

Why, then, does Jesus describe Dives praying to Abraham for precisely that? Note also that Abraham in turn never rebukes Dives, nor tells him that he shouldn’t be praying to him; that he should only pray to God. He merely turns down his request (which in turn proves that he had the power to do it but chose not to). Otherwise, he would or should have said (it seems to me), “I can’t do that; only God can” or “pray only to God, not to me.”

Turretin brought up his objection, and I just refuted it. I would give up a lot if it were possible to bring back Turretin for an hour and persuade him to try to refute what I just wrote. Protestants rarely do that because they simply ignore most of our best counter-arguments against their endless criticisms of Catholicism. So, by and large, we don’t know how they would answer. They love to throw out accusations. They do not like at all having to deal with the best Catholic apologists’ replies to same. That’s not part of the plan. It doesn’t work that way. It sure doesn’t. Their anti-Catholic and anti-traditional arguments are weak and easily refuted, and from Scripture, as I just did (or the Church fathers, as the case may be). Protestants don’t own Scripture or biblical argumentation and exegesis. Often, their exegesis is quite shallow, especially when it comes to what I have called the “Catholic verses.”
Turretin makes reference to the “hope of salvation . . . placed in” saints and states, “Thus they are invoked, not only as intercessors, but also as protectors from evil and bestowers both of grace and glory.” This is eminently scriptural as well. But thus far, Turretin has not many many scriptural arguments. He simply rails about what he seems to think is self-evidently false (no biblical proofs needed, I guess . . .). The Bible refers to others besides God spreading His grace. In Revelation 1:4, grace is said to come from God and also “from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” God gives us partial credit for spreading His grace:

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it [his many sufferings: 4:8-12, 17] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you . . .

Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

Yet Turretin denies that anyone besides God can distribute His grace. Why? Was he unfamiliar with the above passages? Or did he choose to ignore them, since they are so unProtestant? How about creatures assisting others in being saved, though? That’s quite biblical as well:

Romans 11:13-14 . . . I magnify my ministry [14] in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

1 Corinthians 1:21 . . . it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, . . .

1 Corinthians 7:16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; . . .

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.

James 5:19-20 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, [20] let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives

That’s ten biblical passages. Was Turretin unfamiliar with all of them, too? If men on earth can help in bestowing God’s gift of salvation, how much more can saints, who are perfected in heaven and without sin, do so, because their prayers are unimaginably effective, per James 5. Turretin then mentions two Catholic prayers:
Thus invocation is directed to all the saints: “Also ye happy hosts of souls in heaven; Let present, past and future ills from us be driven” (cf. “Festa Novembris: Ad Vesperas,” in Breviarium Romanum [1884], 2:817). And to the apostles: “O happy apostles, deliver me from sin, Defend, comfort and lead me into the kingdom of heaven” (Hortulus Animae [1602], pp. 450–51).”
Yeah, that’s biblical too. Moses was able to do that:
Exodus 32:30 On the morrow Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
Numbers 11:1-2 And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes; and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. [2] Then the people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire abated.
Numbers 14:13, 19-20 But Moses said to the LORD, . . . [19] “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” [20] Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word;
Numbers 21:7-9 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
He can do this by the power and will of God, but no one in heaven can? That makes no sense. Of course they can do so. We ask them to pray for our deliverance from sin, and their powerful prayers help make it possible. This is how God designed things. Otherwise, all of these “Catholic verses” simply wouldn’t be in the Bible in the first place. Turretin doesn’t refute them; he ignores them.
Moses’ brother Aaron atoned for his people and stopped a plague (Num 16:46-48). Phinehas likewise atoned and prevented God’s wrath from “consum[ing] the people of Israel” (Num 25:11-13). But Turretin denies that this could happen (these are his false premises, before he even gets to saints in heaven), and appears to think that only God can do these things. God says otherwise in His revelation!
Also: “I seek to be saved by you in the last judgment.”
Ho hum. Paul casually noted at least four times that he “saved” people (Rom 11:14; 1 Cor 9:22; 2 Cor 1:6; 2 Tim 2:10: all seen above). James wrote that “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way” will do the same (Jas 5:20). Paul told Timothy that he could “save” his “hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). These Catholic prayers are to be understood in the same sense: a biblical sense. It’s not rocket science. Turretin is the one being unbiblical, in denying clear biblical affirmations.
To Peter: “O Shepherd Peter, mild and good, receive My prayers—from bonds of sin my soul relieve; By that great power which unto thee was given Who by thy word dost open and shut the gate of heaven” (“Festa Junii: SS. Petri et Pauli,” in Breviarium Romanum [1884], 2:499).
The apostles (including Peter: Mt 16:19) were given the power to forgive sins and relieve people of their sins (what we call absolution):

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

This was later delegated to the “elders of the church”:

James 5:14-15 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Where’s the beef? All of this stuff is so eminently biblical that no Christians should have to argue about it at all. But because Protestants ignore or seek to rationalize away all of this Scripture (and it’s a lot, as we see above), we have to engage in these should-be-unnecessary conflicts, in order that the Bible doesn’t get trampled underfoot and neglected: ironically by those who always claim to be its exemplary expositors and champions.


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Photo credit: Landauer Altar (1511), by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: As part of my series of replies to Calvinist expositor Francois Turretin, I address the topic of the communion of saints, particularly their powerful intercession.

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