Friday, January 31, 2014

On John Calvin

Concerning the great revolt or Reformation, Hilaire Belloc says:

“THE explosion would not have had a constructive result but for the appearance about ten years after the first Lutheran protest of a book—and behind that book a mind—which was to dominate all the future of the rebellion against Catholic unity.

"It was a book from the pen of a certain northern Frenchman, by the name of Jean Cauvin, or Chauvin, in the Latin Calvinus, whom his followers now know everywhere as John Calvin. He it was who erected a counter-church well organized and defined and therefore capable of expansion and endurance. He set up as the foundation of that church a surely developed, well expounded and argued philosophical system which is still so well known as to need no special description here. It is enough to say that he recognized only one will in the universe—the Divine Will—that he tended, therefore to ascribe not only good, but evil operations to that Will and emphasized the Divine Majesty so strongly as to get the right relations of God to man out of proportion; that he weakened in man—one may say virtually denied the power of free will, stressing out of reason (but with powerful effect) the role of predestination. Man’s good deeds, proceeding from no free will, were of no effect towards the salvation of man’s soul.

"Inspired by this general doctrine was to be organized a new Church which was actually the creation of Calvin’s mind, but which he and his followers enthusiastically built up, on the plea that it was a return to what the true Church had been in its original purity. He proposed an ecclesiastical system in which each congregation elected its minister, the corporation of ministers forming a synod or collective body summonable upon occasion and the whole body of clergy and laity so defined constituting what he called “the Church,” the whole thing being built up of individual congregations which were called “the Churches.”

"Within these the Eucharist continued in a form, the exact definition of which was still debated, but which excluded the old sacramental idea as idolatrous—in other words, Calvin’s construction destroyed and abhorred the Mass, which had been from immemorial time everywhere the central act of Christendom.

"Like all other reformers, he set up, but with more precision than many of them, the Scriptures as the sole rule of faith accepting, by a curious irony, for an absolute that which could in the nature of things have no authority at all, save for the tradition of the Catholic Church he was attacking. For no one in all these centuries would have regarded the Scriptures as possessing Divine authority or would have called them the word of God had not the Catholic Church insisted on that mystical doctrine. It was even the Church which had decided what should be and should not be included within the term of Scripture.”

~Hilaire Belloc: From The Crisis of Civilization.

Belloc lectures Chesterton on “the errors of Geneva.”
Caricature by Max Beerbohm (1872–1956)

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