A reader asks for my take on a passage by Calvin

A reader asks for my take on a passage by Calvin May 11, 2018

He writes:

Hi Mr. Shea! I read your book By What Authority? awhile back and enjoyed it. Along with some other religious works I’ve read, Anyways, I’m wondering if you might give me your “take” or thoughts, however brief they might be (I know you’re busy), on a passage from the preface of John Calvin’s “Antidote” against the Council of Trent, which I’ve quoted below. These are some words of his that precede his critique of the council, in which he explains why he thinks the council’s conclusions are unbiblical. I have my own ideas about why Calvin is wrong here and how his stated approach to the Scriptures and the council is problematic, but I’d be most interested in your own critique on what you find lacking or misguided in his stated approach. Even if you only have a few words to offer on this, I’d be most interested– thanks for your time! 


The name of Sacred Council is held in such reverence in the Christian Church, that the very mention of it produces an immediate effect not only on the ignorant but on men of gravity and sound judgment.

I am above any council of holy Church, because I’m me, John Calvin, and I have a Bible.

And doubtless, as the usual remedy which God employed from the beginning in curing the diseases of his Church was for pious and holy pastors to meet, and, after invoking his aid, to determine what the Holy Spirit dictated, Councils are deservedly honored by all the godly.

Don’t get me wrong.  Other councils were fine because I agree with them.  But in the end, I’m the sole arbiter of what is biblical and what ain’t.

There is this difference, however, – the vulgar, stupified with excessive admiration, do not afterwards make any use of their judgment, whereas those of sounder sense allow themselves, step by step, and modestly, indeed, but still allow themselves to inquire before they absolutely assent.

Dumb peasants just listen to the teaching Holy Church and accept it.  But not this guy.  I’ll decide what is Magisterial and what isn’t.

And so it ought to be, in order that our faith, instead of rashly subscribing to the naked decisions of men, may submit to God only

 The teaching of God only exactly coincides with my own.  Lucky me.

 . . . . I ask nothing of my readers, however, but to lay prejudice in favor of either party aside, and come unbiased to the discussion.

 Unbiased judgment means judgment that agrees with mine.

 This they can only do by withdrawing their eye from persons, and fixing it on the subject.

And I—I alone—define the subject.


It’s amazing how much this sounds like people attacking Pope Francis today.

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