Vol 8, Chapter XV (Cont’d) – Theological Controversies

118. Calvin as a Controversialist

Calvin was involved in several controversies, chiefly on account of his doctrine of predestination. He displayed a decided superiority over all his opponents, as a scholar and a reasoner. He was never at a loss for an argument. He had also the dangerous gift of wit, irony, and sarcasm, but not the more desirable gift of harmless humor, which sweetens the bitterness of controversy, and lightens the burden of daily toil. Like David, in the imprecatory Psalms, he looked upon the enemies of his doctrine as enemies of God. “Even a dog barks,” he wrote to the queen of Navarre, “when his master is attacked; how could I be silent when the honor of my Lord is assailed?” He treated his opponents — Pighius, Bolsec, Castellio, and Servetus — with sovereign contempt, and called them “nebulones, nugatores, canes, porci, bestiae. Such epithets are like weeds in the garden of his chaste and elegant style. But they were freely used by the ancient fathers, with the exception of Chrysostom and Augustin, in dealing with heretics, and occur even in the Scriptures, but impersonally. (Isa_56:10; Mat_7:6; Phi_3:2; Rev_22:15) His age saw nothing improper in them. Beza says that “no expression unworthy of a good man ever fell from the lips of Calvin.” The taste of the sixteenth century differed widely from that of the nineteenth. The polemical writings of Protestants and Romanists alike abound in the most violent personalities and coarse abuse. Luther wielded the club of Hercules against Tetzel, Eck, Emser, Cochlaeus, Henry VIII., Duke Henry of Brunswick, and the Sacramentarians. Yet there were honorable exceptions even then, as Melanchthon and Bullinger. A fiery temper is a propelling force in history; nothing great can be done without enthusiasm; moral indignation against wrong is inseparable from devotion to what is right; hatred is the negative side of love. But temper must be controlled by reason, and truth should be spoken in love, “with malice to none, with charity for all.” Opprobrious and abusive terms always hurt a good cause; self-restraint and moderation strengthen it. Understatement commands assent; overstatement provokes opposition.


119. Calvin and Pighius

I. Albertus Pighius: De libero hominis arbitrio et divina gratia libri decem. Coloniae, 1542, mense Augusto. Dedicated to Cardinal Sadolet. He wrote also Assertio hierarchiae ecclesiasticae, a complete defence of the Roman Church, dedicated to Pope Paul III., 1538.

Calvin: Defensio sanae et orthodoxae doctrinae de servitute et liberatione humani arbitrii adversus calumnias Alberti Pighii Campensis. With a preface to Melanchthon. Geneva, 1543. In Opera, VI. 225-404. (Amsterdam ed. t. VIII. 116 sqq.) The same in French, Geneva, 1560.

II. Bayle: Art. Pighius, in his “Dict. hist.” — Henry, II. 285 sqq. (English trans. I. 492 sqq.). — Dyer (1850), pp. 158-165. — Schweizer: Die protest. Centraldogmen (1854), I. 180-200. Very satisfactory. — Werner (R. Cath.): Geschichte der apologetischen und polemischen Literatur der christl. Theologie (1865), IV. 272 sq. and 298. Superficial. — Staehelin, II. 281-287. — Prolegomena to Calvin’s Opera, VI. pp. XXIII.-XXV.

As Erasmus had attacked Luther’s doctrine on the slavery of the human will, and provoked Luther’s crushing reply, Albert Pighius attacked Luther and chiefly Calvin on the same vulnerable point.

Pighius (or Pigghe) of Campen in Holland, educated at Louvain and Cologne, and a pupil of Pope Adrian VI., whom he followed to Rome, was a learned and eloquent divine and deputed on various missions by Clement VII. and Paul III. He may have seen Calvin at the Colloquies in Worms and Ratisbon. He died as canon and archdeacon of Utrecht, Dec. 26, 1542, a few months after the publication of his book against Calvin and the other Reformers. Beza calls him the first sophist of the age, who, by gaining a victory over Calvin, hoped to attain to a cardinal’s hat. But it is wrong to judge of motives without evidence. His retirement to Utrecht could not promote such ambition.

Pighius represents the dogma of the slavery of the human will, and of the absolute necessity of all that happens, as the cardinal error of the Reformation, and charges it with leading to complete moral indifference. He wrote ten books against it. In the first six books, he defends the doctrine of free-will; in the last four books, he discusses divine grace, foreknowledge, predestination, and providence, and, last, the Scripture passages on these subjects. He teaches the Semi-Pelagian theory with some Pelagian features, and declares that “our works are meritorious before God.” After the Synod of Trent had more carefully guarded the doctrine of justification against Semi-Pelagianism, the Spanish Inquisition placed his book, — De libero arbitrio, and his tract, De peccato originali, on the Index, and Cardinal Bona recommended caution in reading them, since he did not always present the reliable orthodox doctrine. Pighius was not ashamed to copy, without acknowledgment, whole pages from Calvin’s Institutes, where it suited his purpose. Calvin calls him a plagiarist, and says, “With what right he publishes such sections as his own, I cannot see, unless he claims, as enemy, the privilege of plunder.”

The arguments of Pighius against the doctrine of the slavery of the human will are these: It contradicts common sense; it is inconsistent with the admitted freedom of will in civil and secular matters; it destroys all morality and discipline, turns men into animals and monsters, makes God the author of sin, and perverts his justice into cruelty, and his wisdom into folly. He derives these heresies from the ancient Gnostics and Simon Magus, except that Luther surpassed them all in impiety.

Calvin’s answer was written in about two months, and amidst many interruptions. He felt the weight of the objections, but he always marched up to the cannon’s mouth. He admits, incidentally, that Luther often used hyperbolic expressions in order to rouse attention. He also allows the liberum arbitrium in the sense that man acts voluntarily and of his inner impulse. But he denies that man, without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, has the power to choose what is spiritually good, and quotes Rom_6:17; Rom_7:14, Rom_7:23. “Man has arbitrium spontaneum, so that he willingly and by choice does evil, without compulsion from without, and, therefore, he incurs guilt. But, owing to native depravity, his will is so given to sin that it always chooses evil. Hence spontaneity and enslavement may exist together. The voluntas is spontanea, but not libera; it is not coacta, yet serva.” This is an anticipation of the artificial distinction between natural ability and moral inability — a distinction which is practically useless. As regards the teaching of the early Church, he could not deny that the Fathers, especially Origen, exalt the freedom of the will; but he could claim Augustin in his later writings, in which he retracted his earlier advocacy of freedom. The objection that the slavery of the will nullifies the exhortations to repent, would be valid, if God did not make them effective by his Spirit.

The reply of Calvin to Pighius is more cautious and guarded than Luther’s reply to Erasmus, and more churchly than Zwingli’s tract on Providence. In defending himself, he defended what was then the common Protestant doctrine, in opposition to the then prevailing Pelagianism in the Roman Church. It had a good effect upon the Council of Trent, which distinctly disowned the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian heresy.

Calvin dedicated his book to Melanchthon, as a friend who had agreed with him and had advised him to write against Pighius, if he should attack the Reformation. But Melanchthon, who had taught the same doctrine, was at that time undergoing a change in his views on the freedom of the will, chiefly because he felt that the denial of it would make God the author of sin, and destroy man’s moral accountability. He was as competent to appreciate the logical argument in favor of necessity, but he was more open to the force of ethical and practical considerations. In his reply to Calvin’s dedication, May 11, 1543, he acknowledged the compliment paid to him, but modestly and delicately intimated his dissent and his desire that Protestants should unite in the defence of those more important doctrines, which commended themselves by their simplicity and practical usefulness. “I wish,” he says, “you would transfer your eloquence to the adorning of these momentous subjects, by which our friends would be strengthened, our enemies terrified, and the weak encouraged; for who in these days possesses a more forcible or splendid style of disputation? … I do not write this letter to dictate to you who are so learned a man, and so well versed in all the exercises of piety. I am persuaded, indeed, that it agrees with your sentiments, though less subtle and more adapted for use.”

Calvin intended to answer the second part of the work of Pighius, but as he learned that he had died shortly before, he did not wish “to insult a dead dog” (!), and applied himself “to other pursuits.” But nine years afterwards he virtually answered it in the Consensus Genevensis (1552), which may be considered as the second part of his refutation of Pighius, although it was occasioned by the controversy with Bolsec.


120. The Anti-Papal Writings. Criticism of the Council of Trent. 1547

I. Most of Calvin’s anti-papal writings are printed in Opera, Tom. VI. (in the Amsterdam ed., Tom. IX. 37-90; 99-335 and 409-485.) An English translation in vols. I. and III. of Tracts relating the Reformation by John Calvin, translated from the original Latin by Henry Beveridge, Esq. Edinburgh (Calvin Translation Society), 1844 and 1851.

II. Acta Synodi Tridentinae elim antidoto. In Opera, VII. 305-506. Comp. Schweizer, I. 239-249; Dyer, p. 229 sq.; Staehelin, II. 255 sqq.

Calvin’s anti-papal writings are numerous. Among them his Answer to Cardinal Sadolet (1540), and his Plea for the Necessity of the Reformation, addressed to Emperor Charles V. (1544), deserve the first place. They are superior in ability and force to any similar works of the sixteenth century. They have been sufficiently noticed in previous sections. I will only add the manly conclusion of the Plea to the Emperor: — 

“But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us. If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe: We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the Divine truth, which men now despise.”

Next to these books in importance is his criticism of the Council of Trent, published in November, 1547.

The Council of Trent, which was to heal the divisions of Western Christendom, convened after long delay, Dec. 13, 1545; then adjourned, convened again, and finally closed, Dec. 4, 1563, a few months before Calvin’s death. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth sessions (1546), it settled the burning questions of the rule of faith, original sin, and justification, in favor of the present Roman system and against the views of the Reformers. The Council avoided the ill-disguised Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism of Eck, Pighius, and other early champions of Rome, and worded its decrees with great caution and circumspection; but it decidedly condemned the Protestant doctrines of the supremacy of the Bible, the slavery of the natural will, and justification by faith alone.

Calvin was the first to take up the pen against these decisions. He subjected them to a searching criticism. He admits, in the introduction, that a Council might be of great use and restore the peace of Christendom, provided it be truly, ecumenical, impartial, and free. But he denies that the Council of Trent had these essential characteristics. The Greek and the Evangelical Churches were not represented at all. It was a purely Roman Council, and under the control of the pope, who was himself the chief offender, and far more disposed to perpetuate abuses than to abolish them. The members, only about forty, mostly Italians, were not distinguished for learning or piety, but were a set of wrangling monks and canonists and minions of the pope. They gave merely a nod of assent to the living oracle of the Vatican, and then issued the decrees as responses of the Holy Spirit., As soon as a decree is framed,” he says, “couriers flee off to Rome, and beg pardon and peace at the feet of their idol. The holy father hands over what the couriers have brought to his private advisers for examination. They curtail, add, and change as they please. The couriers return, and a sederunt is appointed. The notary reads over what no one dares to disapprove, and the asses shake their ears in assent. Behold the oracle which imposes religious obligations on the whole world …. The proclamation of the Council is entitled to no more weight than the cry of an auctioneer.”

Calvin dissects the decrees with his usual polemic skill. He first states them in the words of the Council, and then gives the antidote. He exposes the errors of the Vulgate, which the Council put on a par with the original Hebrew and Greek originals, and defends the supremacy of the Scriptures and the doctrine of justification by faith.

He wrote this work in two or three months, under constant interruption, while Chemnitz took ten years to complete his. He submitted the manuscript to Farel, who was delighted with it. He published also a French edition in a more popular form.

Cochlaeus prepared, with much personal bitterness, a refutation of Calvin (1548), and was answered by Des Gallars, and Beza, who numbers Cochlaeus among the monsters of the animal kingdom.

After the close of the Council of Trent, Martin Chemnitz, the leading divine of the Lutheran Church after the death of Melanchthon, wrote his more elaborate Examen Concilii Tridentini (1565-1573; second ed. 1585), which was for a long time a standard work in the Roman controversy.


121. Against the German Interim. 1549

Interim Adultero-Germanum: Cui adjecta est vera Christianae pacificationis et ecclesiae reformandae ratio, per Joannem Calvinum. Cavete a fermento Pharisaeorum, 1549. Opera, VII. 541-674. — It was reprinted in Germany, and translated into French (1549) and Italian (1561). See Henry, II. 369 sqq.; III. Beilage, 211 sq.; Dyer, 232 sq.

On the Interim, comp. the German Histories of Ranke, (V. 25 sqq.) and Janssen (III. 625 sqq.), and the monograph of Ludwig Pastor (Rom. Cath.): Die kirchlichen Reunionsbestrebungen waehrend der Regierung Karls V. Freiburg, 1879, pp. 357 sqq.

Calvin’s tract on the false German Interim is closely connected with his criticism of the Council of Trent. After defeating the Smalkaldian League, the Emperor imposed on the Protestants in Germany a compromise confession of faith to be used till the final decision of the General Council. It was drawn up by two Roman Catholic bishops, Pflug (an Erasmian) and Helding, with the aid of John Agricola, the chaplain of Elector Joachim II. of Brandenburg. Agricola was a vain, ambitious, and unreliable man, who had once been a secretary and table companion of Luther, but fell out with him and Melanchthon in the Antinomian controversy. He was suspected of having been bribed by the Catholics.

The agreement was laid before the Diet of Augsburg, and is called the Augsburg Interim. It was proclaimed, with an earnest exhortation, by the Emperor, May 15, 1548. It comprehended the whole Roman Catholic system of doctrine and discipline, but in a mild and conciliatory form, and without an express condemnation of the Protestant views. The doctrine of justification was stated in substantial agreement with that of the Council of Trent. The seven sacraments, transubstantiation, the mass, the invocation of the saints, the authority of the pope, and all the important ceremonies, were to be retained. The only concession made to the Protestants was the use of the cup by the laity in the holy communion, and the permission for married priests to retain their wives. The arrangement suited the views of the Emperor, who, as Ranke remarks, wished to uphold the Catholic hierarchy as the basis of his power, and yet to make it possible for Protestants to be reconciled to him. It is very evident that the adoption of such a confession was a virtual surrender of the cause of the Reformation and would have ended in a triumph of the papacy.

The Interim was received with great indignation by the Protestants, and was rejected in Hesse, ducal Saxony, and the Northern cities, especially in Madgeburg, which became the headquarters of the irreconcilable Lutherans under the lead of Flacius. In Southern Germany it was enforced with great rigor by Spanish soldiers. More than four hundred pastors in Swabia and on the Rhine were expelled from their benefices for refusing the Interim, and wandered about with their families in poverty and misery. Among them was Brenz, the Reformer of Wuertemburg, who fled to Basel, where he received a consolitary letter from Calvin (Nov. 5, 1548). Martin Bucer, with all his zeal for Christian union, was unwilling to make a compromise at the expense of his conscience, and fled from Strassburg to England, where he was appointed professor of divinity in the University of Cambridge.

It was forbidden under pain of death to write against the Interim. Nevertheless, over thirty attacks appeared from the “Chancellery of God” at Magdeburg. Bullinger and Calvin wrote against it.

Calvin published the imperial proclamation and the text of the Interim in full, and then gave his reasons why it could never bring peace to the Church. He begins with a quotation from Hilary in the Arian controversy: “Specious indeed is the name of peace, and fair the idea of unity; but who doubts that the only peace of the Church is that which is of Christ?” This is the key-note of his own exposition on the true method of the pacification of Christendom.

Elector Maurice of Saxony, who stood between two fires, — his Lutheran subjects and the Emperor, — modified the Augsburg Interim, with the aid of Melanchthon and the other theologians of Wittenberg, and substituted for it the Leipzig Interim, Dec. 22, 1548. In this document the chief articles of faith are more cautiously worded so as to admit of an evangelical interpretation, but the Roman ceremonies are retained, as adiaphora, or things indifferent, which do not compromise the conscience nor endanger salvation. it gave rise to the Adiaphoristic Controversy between the strict and the moderate Lutherans. Melanchthon was placed in a most trying position in the midst of the contest. In the sincere wish to save Protestantism from utter overthrow and Saxony from invasion and desolation by imperial troops, he yielded to the pressure of the courtiers and accepted the Leipzig Interim in the hope of better times. For this conduct he was severely attacked by Flacius, his former pupil, and denounced as a traitor. When Calvin heard the news, he wrote an earnest letter of fraternal rebuke to Melanchthon, and reminded him of Paul’s unyielding firmness at the Synod of Jerusalem on the question of circumcision.

Protestantism in Germany was brought to the brink of ruin, but was delivered from it by the treason of the Elector Maurice. This shrewd, selfish politician and master in the art of dissimulation, had first betrayed the Protestants, by aiding the Emperor in the defeat of the Smalkaldian League, whereby he gained the electorate; and then he rose in rebellion against the Emperor and drove him and the Fathers of Trent out of Tyrol (1551). He died in 1553 of a deadly wound which he received in a victorious battle against his old friend Albrecht of Brandenburg.

The final result of the defeat of the Emperor was the Augsburg Treaty of Peace, 1555, which for the first time gave to the Lutherans a legal status in the empire, though with certain restrictions. This closes the period of the Lutheran Reformation.


122. Against the Worship of Relics. 1543

Advertissement tres-utile du grand proffit qui reviendroit à la Chrestienté, s’il se faisoit inventoire de tous les corps sainctz et reliques, qui sont tant en Italia qu’en France Allemaigne, Hespaigne, et autres Royaumes et Pays. Gen., 1543, 1544, 1551, 1563, 1579, 1599. Reprinted in Opera, VI. 405-452. A Latin edition by Nicolaus Gallasius (des Gallars) was published at Geneva, 1548. It appeared also in English (A very profitable treatise, etc.), London, 1561, and in two German translations (by Jakob Eysenberg of Wittenberg, 1557, etc., and by J. Fischart, 1584, or 1583, under the title Der heilig Brotkorb der h. Roemischen Reliquien). See Henry, II. 333 and III., Appendix, 204-206. A new English translation by Beveridge in Calvin’s Tracts relating to the Reformation, Edinb., 1844, pp. 289-341.

In the same year in which Calvin answered Pighius, he published a French tract on Relics, which was repeatedly printed and translated. It was the most popular and effective of his anti-papal writings. He indulged here very freely in his power of ridicule and sarcasm, which reminds one almost of Voltaire, but the spirit is altogether different. He begins with the following judicious remarks, which best characterize the book:

Augustin, in his work, entitled On the Labor of Monks, complaining of certain itinerant impostors, who, as early as his day, plied a vile and sordid traffic, by carrying the relics of martyrs about from place to place, adds, ‘If, indeed, they are relics of martyrs.’ By this expression he intimates the prevalence, even in his day, of abuses and impostures, by which the ignorant populace were cheated into the belief that bones gathered here and there were those of saints. While the origin of the imposture is thus ancient, there cannot be a doubt that in the long period which has since elapsed, it has exceedingly increased, considering, especially, that the world has since been strangely corrupted, and has never ceased to become worse, till it has reached the extreme wherein we now behold it.

“But the first abuse and, as it were, beginning of the evil was, that when Christ ought to have been sought in his Word, sacraments, and spiritual influences, the world, after its wont, clung to his garments, vests, and swaddling-clothes; and thus overlooking the principal matter, followed only its accessory. The same course was pursued in regard to apostles, martyrs, and other saints. For when the duty was to meditate diligently on their lives, and engage in imitating them, men made it their whole study to contemplate and lay up, as it were in a treasury, their bones, shirts, girdles, caps, and similar trifles.

“I am not unaware that in this there is a semblance of pious zeal, the allegation being, that the relics of Christ are kept on account of the reverence which is felt for himself, and in order that the remembrance of him may take a firmer hold of the mind. And the same thing is alleged with regard to the saints. But attention should be paid to what Paul says, viz., that all divine worship of man’s devising, having no better and surer foundation than his own opinion, be its semblance of wisdom what it may, is mere vanity and folly.

“Besides, any advantage, supposed to be derived from it, ought to be contrasted with the danger. In this way it would be discovered that the possession of such relics was of little use, or was altogether superfluous and frivolous, whereas, on the other hand, it was most difficult, or rather impossible, that men should not thereby degenerate into idolatry. For they cannot look upon them, or handle them, without veneration; and there being no limit to this, the honor due to Christ is forthwith paid to them. In short, a longing for relics is never free from superstition, nay, what is worse, it is the parent of idolatry, with which it is very generally conjoined.

“All admit, without dispute, that God carried away the body of Moses from human sight, lest the Jewish nation should fall into the abuse of worshipping it. What was done in the case of one ought to be extended to all, since the reason equally applies. But not to speak of saints, let us see what Paul says of Christ himself. He declares, that after the resurrection of Christ he knew him no more after the flesh, intimating by these words that everything carnal which belonged to Christ should be consigned to oblivion and be discarded, in order that we may make it our whole study and endeavor to seek and possess him in spirit. Now, therefore, when men talk of it as a grand thing to possess some memorial of Christ and his saints, what else is it than to seek an empty cloak with which to hide some foolish desire that has no foundation in reason? But even should there seem to be a sufficient reason for it, yet, seeing it is so clearly repugnant to the mind of the Holy Spirit, as declared by the mouth of Paul, what more do we require?”

The following is a summary of this tract: — 

What was at first a foolish curiosity for preserving relics has degenerated into abominable idolatry. The great majority of the relics are spurious. It could be shown by comparison that every apostle has more than four bodies and every saint two or three. The arm of St. Anthony, which was worshipped in Geneva, when brought out from the case, turned out to be a part of a stag. The body of Christ could not be obtained, but the monks of Charroux pretend to have, besides teeth and hair, the prepuce or pellicle cut off in his circumcision. But it is shown also in the Lateran church at Rome. The blood of Christ which Nicodemus is said to have received in a handkerchief or a bowl, is exhibited in Rochelle, in Mantua, in Rome, and many other places. The manger in which he laid at his birth, his cradle, together with the shirt which his mother made, the pillar on which he leaned when disputing in the Temple, the water-pots in which he turned water into wine, the nails, and pieces of the cross, are shown in Rome, Ravenna, Pisa, Cluny, Angers, and elsewhere.

The table of the last Supper is at Rome, in the church of St. John in the Lateran; some of the bread at St. Salvador in Spain; the knife with which the Paschal Lamb was cut up, is at Treves. What semblance of possibility is there that that table was found seven or eight hundred years after? Besides, tables were in those days different in shape from ours, for people used to recline at meals. Fragments of the cross found by St. Helena are scattered over many churches in Italy, France, Spain, etc., and would form a good shipload, which it would take three hundred men to carry instead of one. But they say that this wood never grows less! Some affirm that their fragments were carried by angels, others that they dropped down from heaven. Those of Poitiers say that their piece was stolen by a maid-servant of Helena and carried off to France. There is still a greater controversy as to the three nails of the cross: one of them was fixed in the crown of Constantine, the other two were fitted to his horse’s bridle, according to Theodoret, or one was kept by Helena herself, according to Ambrose. But now there are two nails at Rome, one at Siena, one at Milan, one at Carpentras, one at Venice, one at Cologne, one at Treves, two at Paris, one at Bourges, etc. All the claims are equally good, for the nails are all spurious. There is also more than one soldier’s spear, crown of thorns, purple robe, the seamless coat, and Veronica’s napkin (which at least six cities boast of having). A piece of broiled fish, which Peter offered to the risen Saviour on the seashore, must have been wondrously well salted if it has kept for these fifteen centuries! But, jesting apart, is it supposable that the apostles made relics of what they had actually prepared for dinner?

Calvin exposes with equal effect the absurdities and impieties of the wonder-working pictures of Christ; the relics of the hair and milk of the Virgin Mary, preserved in so many places, her combs, her wardrobe and baggage, and her house carried by angels across the sea to Loreto; the shoes of St. Joseph; the slippers of St. James; the head of John the Baptist, of which Rhodes, Malta, Lucca, Nevers, Amiens, Besançon, and Noyon claim to have portions; and his fingers, one of which is shown at Besançon, another at Toulouse, another at Lyons, another at Bourges, another at Florence. At Avignon they have the sword with which John was beheaded, at Aix-la-Chapelle the linen cloth placed under him by the kindness of the executioner, in Rome his girdle and the altar at which he said prayers in the desert. It is strange, adds Calvin, that they do not also make him perform mass.

The tract concludes with this remark: “So completely are the relics mixed up and huddled together, that it is impossible to have the bones of any martyr without running the risk of worshipping the bones of some thief or robber, or, it may be, the bones of a dog, or a horse, or an ass, or — Let every one, therefore, guard against this risk. Henceforth no man will be able to excuse himself by pretending ignorance.”


123. The Articles of the Sorbonne with an Antidote. 1544

Articuli a facultate s. theol. Parisiensi determinati super materiis fidei nostrae hodie controversis. Cum Antidoto (1543), 1544. Opera, VII. 1-44. A French edition appeared in the same year. English translation by Beveridge, in Calvin’s Tracts, I. 72-122.

The theological faculty of the University of Paris published, March 10, 1542, a summary of the most obnoxious doctrines of the Roman Church, in twenty-five articles, which were sanctioned by an edict of the king of France, and were to be subscribed by all candidates of the priesthood.

Calvin republished these articles, and accompanied each, first with an ironical defence, and then with a scriptural antidote. This reductio ad absurdum had probably more effect in Paris than a serious and sober mode of refutation. The following is a specimen: — 


“Article VI. Of the Sacrifice of the Mass

The sacrifice of the Mass is, according to the institution of Christ, available for the living and the dead.”

“Proof, — Because Christ says, ‘This do.’ But to do is to sacrifice, according to the passage in Vergil: ‘When I will do (make an offering) with a calf in place of produce, do you yourself come.’ As to which signification, see Macrobius. But when the Lutherans deride that subtlety, because Christ spoke with the Apostles in the common Hebrew or Syriac tongue, and the Evangelists wrote in Greek, answer that the common Latin translation outweighs them. And it is well known that the sense of Scripture must be sought from the determination of the Church. But of the value of sacrifice for the living and the dead we have proof from experience. For many visions have appeared to certain holy monks when asleep, telling them that by means of masses souls had been delivered from Purgatory. Nay, St. Gregory redeemed the soul of Trajan from the infernal regions.”

“Antidote to Article VI

“The institution of Christ is, ‘Take and eat’ (Mat_26:26; Mar_14:22; 1Co_11:24), but not, offer. Therefore, sacrifice is not conformable to the institution of Christ, but is plainly repugnant to it. Besides, it is evident from Scripture that it is the peculiar and proper office of Christ to offer himself; as an apostle says, that by one offering he has forever perfected those that are sanctified (Heb_10:14). Also, that ‘once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb_9:26). Also, that after this sanctification, ‘there remains no more a sacrifice for sins’ (Heb_10:26). For to this end also was he consecrated a priest after the order of Melchisdec, without successor or colleague (Heb_5:6; Heb_7:21).

“Christ, therefore, is robbed of the honor of the priesthood, when the right of offering is transferred to others. Lastly, no man ought to assume this honor unless called by God, as an apostle testifies. But we read of none having been called but Christ. On the other hand, since the promise is destined for those only who communicate in the sacrament, by what right can it belong to the dead?”


124. Calvin and the Nicodemites. 1544

Calvin: Petit traicté monstrant que c’est que doit faire un homme fidele, cognoissant la verité de l’Evangile quand il est entre les papistes, 1543. Excuse de Iehan Calvin à Messieurs les Nicodémites, sur la complaincte qu’il font de so trop grand rigueur. (Excusatio ad Pseudo-Nicodemitas.) 1544. Embodied in the tracts De vitandis superstitionibus quae cum sincera fidei confessione pugnant. Genevae, 1549, 1550, and 1551. This collection contains also the opinions of Melanchthon, Bucer, and Peter Martyr on the question raised by the Nicodemites. Reprinted in Opera, VI. 537-644. A German translation appeared at Herborn, 1588; an English translation by R. Golding, London, 1548. See the bibliographical notes in Henry, III.; Beilage, 208 sq.; Proleg. to Opera, VI. pp. xxx-xxxiv; and La France Protest., III. 584 sq. Dyer, 187 sqq. Staehelin, I. 542 sqq.

A great practical difficulty presented itself to the Protestants in France, where they were in constant danger of persecution. They could not emigrate en masse, nor live in peace at home, without concealing or denying their convictions. A large number were Protestants at heart, but outwardly conformed to the Roman Church. They excused their conduct by the example of Nicodemus, the Jewish Rabbi, who came to Jesus by night.

Calvin, therefore, called them “Nicodemites,” but with this difference, that Nicodemus only buried the body of Christ, after anointing it with precious aromatics; while they bury both his soul and body, his divinity and humanity, and that, too, without honor. Nicodemus interred Christ when dead, but the Nicodemites thrust him into the earth after he has risen. Nicodemus displayed a hundred times more courage at the death of Christ than all the Nicodemites after his resurrection. Calvin confronted them with the alternative of Elijah: “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: if Baal, then follow him” (1Ki_18:21). He advised them either to leave their country for some place of liberty, or to absent themselves from idolatrous worship, even at the risk of their lives. The glory of God should be much dearer to us than this transitory life, which is only a shadow.

He distinguished several classes of Nicodemites: first, false preachers of the gospel, who adopt some evangelical doctrines (meaning probably Gérard le Roux or Roussel, for whom Margaret of Navarre had procured the bishopric of Oléron); next, worldly people, courtiers, and refined ladies, who are used to flattery and hate austerity; then, scholars and literary men, who love their ease and hope for gradual improvement with the spread of education and intelligence; lastly, merchants and citizens, who do not wish to be interrupted in their avocations. Yet he was far from disowning them as brethren because of their weakness. Owing to their great danger they could better expect pardon if they should fall, than he himself who lived in comparative security.

The Nicodemites charged Calvin with immoderate austerity. “Away with this Calvin! he is too impolite. He would reduce us to beggary, and lead us directly to the stake. Let him content himself with his own lot, and leave us in peace; or, let him come to us and show us how to behave. He resembles the leader of an army who incites the common soldiers to the attack, but himself keeps out of the reach of danger.” To this charge he replied (in substance): “If you compare me with a captain, you should not blame me for doing my duty. The question is not, what I would do in your condition, but what is our present duty — yours and mine. If my life differs from my teaching, then woe to me. God is my witness that my heart bleeds when I think of your temptations and dangers, and that I cease not to pray with tears that you may be delivered. Nor do I condemn always the persons when I condemn the thing. I will not boast of superior courage, but it is not my fault, if I am not more frequently in danger. I am not far from the shot of the enemy. Secure to-day, I do not know what shall be to-morrow. I am prepared for every event, and I hope that God will give me grace to glorify him with my blood as well as with my tongue and pen. I shall lay down my life with no more sadness than I now write down these words.”

The French Protestants were under the impression that Luther and Melanchthon had milder and more practicable views on this subject, and requested Calvin to proceed to Saxony for a personal conference. This he declined from want of time, since it would take at least forty days for the journey from Geneva to Wittenberg and back. Nor had he the means. “Even in favorable seasons,” he wrote to an unknown friend in France, “my income barely suffices to meet expenses, and from the scarcity with which we had to struggle during the last two years, I was compelled to run into debt.” He added that “the season was unfavorable for consulting Luther, who has hardly had time to cool from the heat of controversy.” He thus missed the only opportunity of a personal interview with Luther, who died a year later. It is doubtful whether it would have been satisfactory. The old hero was then discontented with the state of the world and the Church, and longing for departure.

But Calvin prevailed on a young gentleman of tolerable learning to undertake the journey for him. He gave him a literal Latin translation of his tracts against the Nicodemites, together with letters to Luther and Melanchthon (Jan. 20, 1545). He asked the latter to act as mediator according to his best judgment. The letter to Luther is very respectful and modest. After explaining the case, and requesting him to give it a cursory examination and to return his opinion in a few words, Calvin thus concludes this, his only, letter to the great German Reformer: — 

“I am unwilling to give you this trouble in the midst of so many weighty and various employments; but such is your sense of justice that you cannot suppose me to have done this unless compelled by the necessity of the case; I therefore trust that you will pardon me. Would that I could fly to you, that I might even for a few hours enjoy the happiness of your society; for I would prefer, and it would be far better, not only upon this question, but also about others, to converse personally with yourself; but seeing that it is not granted to us on earth, I hope that shortly it will come to pass in the kingdom of God. Adieu, most renowned sir, most distinguished minister of Christ, and my ever-honored father. The Lord himself rule and direct you by His own Spirit, that you may persevere even unto the end, for the common benefit and good of His own Church.”

Luther was still so excited by his last eucharistic controversy with the Swiss, and so suspicious, that Melanchthon deemed it inexpedient to lay the documents before him.

“I have not shown your letter to Dr. Martin,” he replied to Calvin, April 17, 1545, “for he takes many things suspiciously, and does not like his answers to questions of the kind you have proposed to him, to be carried round and handed from one to another …. At present I am looking forward to exile and other sorrows. Farewell! On the day on which, thirty-eight hundred and forty-six years ago, Noah entered into the ark, by which God gave testimony of his purpose never to forsake his Church, even when she quivers under the shock of the billows of the great sea.”

He gave, however, his own opinion; and this, as well as the opinions of Bucer and Peter Martyr, and Calvin’s conclusion, were published, as an appendix to the tracts on avoiding superstition, at Geneva in 1549. Melanchthon substantially agreed with Calvin; he asserts the duty of the Christian to worship God alone (Mat_4:10), to flee from idols (1Jo_5:21), and to profess Christ openly before men (Mat_10:33); but he took a somewhat milder view as regards compliance with mere ceremonies and non-essentials. Bucer and Peter Martyr agreed with this opinion. The latter refers to the conduct of the early disciples, who, while holding worship in private houses, still continued to visit the temple until they were driven out.

We now proceed to Calvin’s controversies with Protestant opponents.


125. Calvin and Bolsec

I. Actes du procès intenté par Calvin et les autres ministres de Genève à Jérôme Bolsec de Paris (1551). Printed from the Register of the Venerable Company and the Archives of Geneva, in Opera, VIII. 141-248. — Calvin: De aeterna Dei Praedestinatione, etc., usually called Consensus Genevensis (1552) — chiefly an extract from the respective sections of his Institutes; reprinted in Opera, VIII. 249-366. It is the second part of his answer to Pighius (“the dead dog,” as he calls him), but occasioned by the process of Bolsec, whose name he ignores in contempt. — Calvin’s letter to Libertetus (Fabri of Neuchâtel), January, 1552, in Opera, XIV. 278 sq. — The Letters of the Swiss Churches on the Bolsec affair, reprinted in vol. VIII. 229 sqq. — Beza: Vita Calv. ad ann. 1551.

II. Hierosme Hermes Bolsec, docteur Médecin à Lyon: Histoire de la vie, moeurs, actes, doctrine, constance et mort de Jean Calvin, jadis ministre de Genève, Lyon, 1577; Rééditée avec une introduction, des extraits de la vie de Th. de Bèze, par le même, et des notes à l’appuipar M. Louis-François Chastel, magistrat. Lyon, 1875 (xxxi and 328). On the character and different editions of this book, see La France Protest., II. 755 sqq.

III. Bayle: “Bolsec” in his “Diction. historique et critique.” — F. Trechsel: Die Protest. Antitrinitarier (Heidelberg, 1844). Bd. I. 185-189 and 276-284. — Henry, III. 44 sqq., and the second Beilage to vol. III., which gives the documents (namely, the charges of the ministers of Geneva, Bolsec’s defence, his poem written in prison, the judgments of the Churches of Bern and Zürich — all of which are omitted in the English version, II. 130 sqq.). — Audin (favorable to Bolsec), ch. XXXIX. — Dyer, 265-283. — *Schweizer: Centraldogmen, I. 205-238. — Staehelin, I. 411-414; II. 287-292. — *La France Prot., sub, Bolsec,” tom. II. 745-776 (second ed.). Against this article: Lettre d’un protestant Genevois aux lecteurs de la France Protestante, Genève, 1880. In defence of that article, Henri L. Bordier: L’école historique de Jérôme Bolsec, pour servir de supplement à l’article Bolsec de la France Protestante, Paris (Fischbacher), 1880.

Hieronymus (Hierosme) Hermes Bolsec, a native of Paris, was a Carmelite monk, but left the Roman Church, about 1545, and fled for protection to the Duchess of Ferrara, who admitted him to her house under the title of an almoner. There he married, and adopted the medical profession as a means of livelihood. Ever afterwards he called himself “Doctor of Medicine.” He made himself odious by his turbulent character and conduct, and was expelled by the Duchess for some deception (as Beza reports).

In 1550 he settled at Geneva with his wife and a servant, and practised his profession. But he meddled in theology, and began to question Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. He denounced Calvin’s God as a hypocrite and liar, as a patron of criminals, and as worse than Satan. He was admonished, March 8, 1551, by the Venerable Company, and privately instructed by Calvin in that mystery, but without success. On a second offence he was summoned before the Consistory, and openly reprehended in the presence of fifteen ministers and other competent persons. He acknowledged that a certain number were elected by God to salvation, but he denied predestination to destruction; and, on closer examination, he extended election to all mankind, maintaining that grace efficacious to salvation is equally offered to all, and that the cause, why some receive and others reject it, lies in the free-will, with which all men were endowed. At the same time he abhorred the name of merits. This, in the eyes of Calvin, was a logical contradiction and an absurdity; for, he says, “if some were elected, it surely follows that others are not elected and left to perish. Unless we confess that those who come to Christ are drawn by the Father through the peculiar operation of the Holy Spirit on the elect, it follows either that all must be promiscuously elected, or that the cause of election lies in each man’s merit.”

On the 16th of October, 1551, Bolsec attended the religious conference, which was held every Friday at St. Peter’s. John de St. André preached from Joh_8:47 on predestination, and inferred from the text that those who are not of God, oppose him to the last, because God grants the grace of obedience only to the elect. Bolsec suddenly interrupted the speaker, and argued that men are not saved because they are elected, but that they are elected because they have faith. He denounced, as false and godless, the notion that God decides the fate of man before his birth, consigning some to sin and punishment, others to virtue and eternal happiness. He loaded the clergy with abuse, and warned the congregation not to be led astray.

After he had finished this harangue, Calvin, who had entered the church unobserved, stepped up to him and so overwhelmed him, as Beza says, with arguments and with quotations from Scripture and Augustin, that “all felt exceedingly ashamed for the brazen-faced monk, except the monk himself.” Farel also, who happened to be present, addressed the assembly. The lieutenant of police apprehended Bolsec for abusing the ministers and disturbing the public peace.

On the same afternoon the ministers drew up seventeen articles against Bolsec and presented them to the Council, with the request to call him to account. Bolsec, in his turn, proposed several questions to Calvin and asked a categorical answer (October 25). He asserted that Melanchthon, Bullinger, and Brenz shared his opinion.

The Consistory asked the Council to consult the Swiss Churches before passing judgment. Accordingly, the Council sent a list of Bolsec’s errors to Zürich, Bern, and Basel. They were five, as follows: — 

1. That faith depends not on election, but election on faith.

2. That it is an insult to God to say that he abandons some to blindness, because it is his pleasure to do so.

3. That God leads to himself all rational creatures, and abandons only those who have often resisted him.

4. That God’s grace is universal, and some are not more predestinated to salvation than others.

5. That when St. Paul says (Eph_1:5), that God has elected us through Christ, he does not mean election to salvation, but election to discipleship and apostleship.

At the same time Calvin and his colleagues addressed a circular letter to the Swiss Churches, which speaks in offensive and contemptuous terms of Bolsec, and charges him with cheating, deception, and impudence. Beza also wrote from Lausanne to Bullinger.

The replies of the Swiss Churches were very unsatisfactory to Calvin, although the verdict was, on the whole, in his favor. They reveal the difference between the German and the French Swiss on the subject of divine decrees and free-will. They assent to the doctrine of free election to salvation, but evade the impenetrable mystery of absolute and eternal reprobation, which was the most material point in the controversy.

The ministers of Zürich defended Zwingli against Bolsec’s charge, that in his work on Providence he made God the author of sin, and they referred to other works in which Zwingli traced sin to the corruption of the human will. Bullinger, in a private letter to Calvin, impressed upon him the necessity of moderation and mildness. “Believe me,” he said, “many are displeased with what you say in your Institutes about predestination, and draw the same conclusions from it as Bolsec has drawn from Zwingli’s book on Providence.” This affair caused a temporary alienation between Calvin and Bullinger. It was not till ten years afterwards that Bullinger decidedly embraced the Calvinistic dogma, and even then he laid no stress on reprobation.

Myconius, in the name of the Church of Basel, answered evasively, and dwelt on what Calvin and Bolsec believed in common.

The reply of the ministers of Bern anticipates the modern spirit of toleration. They applaud the zeal for truth and unity, but emphasize the equally important duty of charity and forbearance. The good Shepherd, they say, cares for the sheep that has gone astray. It is much easier to win a man back by gentleness than to compel him by severity. As to the awful mystery of divine predestination, they remind Calvin of the perplexity felt by many good men who cling to the Scripture texts of God’s universal grace and goodness.

The effect of these letters was a milder judgment on Bolsec. He was banished for life from the territory of Geneva for exciting sedition and for Pelagianism, under pain of being whipped if he should ever return. The judgment was announced Dec. 23, 1551, with the sound of the trumpet.

Bolsec retired to Thonon, in Bern, but as he created new disturbances he was banished (1555). He left for France, and sought admission into the ministry of the Reformed Church, but returned at last to the Roman communion. He was classed by the national synod of Lyon among deposed ministers, and characterized as “an infamous liar” and “Apostate” (1563). He lived near Lyon and at Autun, and died at Annecy about 1584. Thirteen years after Calvin’s death he took mean and cowardly revenge by the publication of a libellous “Life of Calvin,” which injured him much more than Calvin; and this was followed by a slanderous “Life of Beza,” 1582. These books would long since have been forgotten, had not partisan zeal kept them alive.

The dispute with Bolsec occasioned Calvin’s tract, “On the Eternal Predestination of God,” which he dedicated to the Syndics and Council of Geneva, under the name of Consensus Genevensis, or Agreement of the Genevese Pastors, Jan. 1, 1552. But it was not approved by the other Swiss Churches.

Beza remarks of the result of this controversy: “All that Satan gained by these discussions was, that this article of the Christian religion, which was formerly most obscure, became clear and transparent to all not disposed to be contentious.”

The quarrel with Bolsec caused the dissolution of the friendship between Calvin and Jacques de Bourgogne, Sieur de Falais et Bredam, a descendant of the dukes of Burgundy, who with his wife, Jolunde de Brederode, a descendant of the old counts of Holland, settled in Geneva, 1548, and lived for some time in Calvin’s house at his invitation, when the wife of the latter was still living. His cook, Nicolas, served Calvin as clerk. Calvin took the greatest interest in De Falais, comforted him over the confiscation of his goods by Charles V., at whose court he had been educated, and wrote a defence for him against the calumnies before the emperor. He also dedicated to him his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. His friendly correspondence from 1543 to 1852 is still extant, and does great credit to him. But De Falais could not penetrate the mysteries of theology, nor sympathize with the severity of discipline in Geneva. He was shocked at the treatment of Bolsec; he felt indebted to him as a physician who had cured one of his maid-servants of a cancer. He interceded for him with the magistrates of Geneva and of Bern. He wrote to Bullinger: “Not without tears am I forced to see and hear this tragedy of Calvin.” He begged him to unite with Calvin for the restoration of peace in the Church.

He left Geneva after the banishment of Bolsec and moved to Bern, where he lost his wife (1557) and married again. Bayle asserts, without authority, that in disgust at the Protestant dissensions he returned to the Roman Church.

Even Melanchthon was displeased with Calvin’s conduct in this unfortunate affair; but the alienation was only superficial and temporary. Judging from the imperfect information of Laelius Socinus, he was disposed to censure the Genevese for an excess of zeal in behalf of the “Stoic doctrine of necessity,” as he called it, while he applauded the Zürichers for greater moderation. He expressed himself to this effect in private letters. Socinus appealed to the judgment of Melanchthon in a letter to Calvin, and Calvin, in his reply, could not entirely deny it. Yet, upon the whole, Melanchthon, like Bullinger, was more on the side of Calvin, and in the more important affair of Servetus, both unequivocally justified his conduct, which is now generally condemned by Protestants.