Monday, April 30, 2012

John Calvin vs. Cardinal Sadoleto

September 1, 1539, Calvin delivered a powerful blow to Roman apologetics of his day with his letter to Cardinal Sadoleto (Tony Pietrantonio recently provided an involuntary imitation of Sadoleto). What is interesting about the Calvin vs. Sadoleto dispute is that it begins from the topic of worship. Calvin states:
Therefore, Sadolet, when you uttered this voluntary confession, you laid the foundation of my defense. For if you admit it to be a fearful destruction to the soul, when, by false opinions, divine truth is turned into a lie, it now only remains for us to inquire which of the two parties retains that worship of God which is alone legitimate.
It is with great sorrow that we see some heirs of the Reformation squandering the legacy of legitimate worship of God, replacing it with all manner of will worship. Granted that it does not yet reach the extremes of Rome with its worship of idols of Mary, Angels, and the Saints, and the worship of them and of God by idols - the worship of bread as though it were God - and many other idolatries and blasphemies of like sort. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the purity of worship is something that is sadly too often missing in churches that are aimed at marketing themselves with popular music and other entertainment.

When it comes to doctrine, Justification by Faith takes a chief place, and Calvin's argument is excellent:
You, in the first place, touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us. Is this a knotty and useless question? Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. That doctrine, then, though of the highest moment, we maintain that you have nefariously effaced from the memory of men. Our books are filled with convincing proofs of this fact, and the gross ignorance of this doctrine, which even still continues in all your churches, declares that our complaint is by no means ill founded. But you very maliciously stir up prejudice against us, alleging that, by attributing every thing to faith, we leave no room for works.

I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevans, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.

First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God both reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined -- by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference -- if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand -- if by works, then not by faith.

But, it seems, injury is done to Christ, if, under the pretence of his grace, good works are repudiated; he having come to prepare a people acceptable to God, zealous of good works, while, to the same effect, are many similar passages which prove that Christ came in order that we, doing good works, might, through him, be accepted by God. This calumny, which our opponents have ever in their mouths, viz., that we take away the desire of well-doing from the Christian life by recommending gratuitous righteousness, is too frivolous to give us much concern. We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous. For, if he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and, at the same time, Christ never is where his Spirit in not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, (1 Cor. i. 30,) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigour, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ himself; and wherever Christ is not, there in no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification.

Since, therefore, according to us, Christ regenerates to a blessed life those whom he justifies, and after rescuing them from the dominion of sin, hands them over to the dominion of righteousness, transforms them into the image of God, and so trains them by his Spirit into obedience to his will, there is no ground to complain that, by our doctrine, lust is left with loosened reins. The passages which you adduce have not a meaning at variance with our doctrine. But if you will pervert them in assailing gratuitous justification, see how unskillfully you argue. Paul elsewhere says (Eph. i. 4) that we were chosen in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy and unblameable in the sight of God through love. Who will venture thence to infer, either that election is not gratuitous, or that our love is its cause? Nay, rather, as the end of gratuitous election, so also that of gratuitous justification is, that we may lead pure and unpolluted lives before God. For the saying of Paul is true, (1 Thess. iv. 7,) we have not been called to impurity, but to holiness. This, meanwhile, we constantly maintain, that man is not only justified freely once for all, without any merit of works, but that on this gratuitous justification the salvation of man perpetually depends. Nor is it possible that any work of man can he accepted by God unless it be gratuitously approved. Wherefore, I was amazed when I read your assertion, that love is the first and chief cause of our salvation. O, Sadolet, who could ever have expected such a saying from you? Undoubtedly the very blind, while in darkness, feel the mercy of God too surely to dare to claim for their love the first cause of their salvation, while those who have merely one spark of divine light feel that their salvation consists in nothing else than their being adopted by God. For eternal salvation is the inheritance of the heavenly Father, and has been prepared solely for his children. Moreover, who can assign any other cause of our adoption than that which is uniformly announced in Scripture, viz., that we did not first love him, but were spontaneously received by him into favor and affection?

Your ignorance of this doctrine leads you on to the error of teaching that sins are expiated by penances and satisfactions. Where, then, will be that one expiatory victim, from which, if we depart, there remains, as Scripture testifies, no more sacrifice for sin? Search through all the divine oracles which we possess; if the blood of Christ alone is uniformly act forth as purchasing satisfaction, reconciliation, and ablution, how dare you presume to transfer so great an honor to your works? Nor have you any ground for ascribing this blasphemy to the Church of God. The ancient Church, I admit, had its satisfactions, not those, however, by which sinners might atone to God and ransom themselves from guilt, but by which they might prove that the repentance which they professed was not feigned, and efface the remembrance of that scandal which their sin had occasioned. For satisfactions were not regularly prescribed to all and sundry, but to those only who had fallen into some heinous wickedness.
You can (and really should) read the whole letter here (link to letter). It is excellent.



Nick said...

Just to let you know, the link to the whole article at the end is not working.

As far as the justification section you quoted, here is a real gem I'm going to keep:

"we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions"

In other words, Active Obedience was never on Calvin's radar; he never taught the doctrine. Thus, the Doctrine of Sola Fide the Reformer taught is not the same doctrine that the second/third generation Reformed taught.

Chris Hansen said...


I'm not sure how you are able to interpret that sentence to imply Calvin "never taught" that doctrine. It's certainly not incompatible with it, and since Calvin's works extended far, far, beyond this letter it's a pretty astounding conclusion you've drawn.

Here are some more quotes that do speak more directly to the subject:

"5. When it is asked then how Christ, by abolishing sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness which made him favourable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by the testimony of Paul, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:19). And indeed he elsewhere extends the ground of pardon which exempts from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ, “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Gal. 4:4, 5). Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding obedience to the command of the Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance....

In the Confession of Faith, called the Apostles’ Creed, the transition is admirably made from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, in which the completion of a perfect salvation consists. Still there is no exclusion of the other part of obedience which he performed in life. Thus Paul comprehends, from the beginning even to the end, his having assumed the form of a servant, humbled himself, and become obedient to death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:7). "

(ICR II.16.5)

TFan: Thanks for posting this, I had forgotten how excellent the letter was. I think there are some Reformed folk who would benefit from a closer study of Calvin on justification here just as well as they would Calvin on worship.

Nick said...

Hi Chris,

I just posted an article on this very subject, which includes links to other articles I've written. If you step back and read what Calvin really said (including the quotes you gave), as I show, you will see Active Obedience was not something he taught. Calvin taught the sufficiency of the Cross.

The quote I presented shows that for Calvin, Christ's righteousness consisted in his passive obedience, and thus justification consisted entirely in the forgiveness of sins.

Natamllc said...

Oh Nick, please! There you go again. John Calvin, in this little bit provided by TF clearly stands up for Christ so that the believer has his focus squarely where Christ's focus is, on one's eternal salvation secured for them by Christ's work, an eternal salvation that in essence means and results in the true believer's holy communion with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

All the while here you go again, standing up for men and their writings about Christ!

The Apostle Paul had a similar problem and he wrote this about it:

1Co 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
1Co 1:11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
1Co 1:12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."
1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Tertiumquid said...

and also:

77. There can be no doubt at all, since all others have not done the will of God and did not have his law within their hearts.
78. Moreover, that will of God which Christ fulfils can be nothing else than the very obedience of Christ, as Paul says, “He became obedient for us” [I Cor. 1:30; Phil. 2:8].
79. By that will we have all been sanctified, as he says [Heb. 10:10], and through the obedience of this one man many are made righteous, Romans 5[:12–19].
80. In the same manner all other references and examples from the Scriptures about law or works necessarily include Christ who is obedient to the Father in our stead.
81. Because we were all once made sinners through the disobedience of Adam, we can never become obedient by ourselves [Rom. 5:18–19].
82. Though we do and suffer many things outwardly, nevertheless, we labor and sweat in vain, because God’s law is not within our hearts.
83. For the inclination of the flesh is not only not to be subject to God’s righteousness, but it even hates and is itself hostile to God.
84. If we ourselves could be obedient to God or fulfil the law, it would not have been necessary for the Son of God to become obedient in place of all of us or for the sake of all of us.

Luther, M. (1999, c1960). Vol. 34: Luther's works, vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (34:119). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Tertiumquid said...

And also:

"Therefore Christ is not a lawgiver. Nonetheless he shows the work of the law. At the same time he indicates what he himself would do so that this work of the law, which is required of all, is fulfilled, namely, that he would obtain it by doing God's will and by satisfying his law... Therefore, this righteousness, which the law requires, is not attained by means of the law that reveals sin and works wrath, but by means of Christ who alone does the will of God and fulfilled his law and received the Holy Spirit." [Martin Luther, Only the Decalogue is Eternal, Martin Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations (Minneapolis: Cygnus Press, 2008) pp. 54-55].

Nick said...

Hello James,

After reading those quotes you gave, I would say that on the surface they could be speaking of Active Obedience, but they are not detailed/systematic enough for me to be convinced either way. For example, fulfilling the law can be taken to mean living a sinless life in order to be a worthy sacrifice. Also, the "Covenant of Works" framework by which Active Obedience arises from is more of a (later) Reformed thing. He's just as systematic as Calvin to be able to say.

In a semi-popular Reformed book, Jesus' Blood and Righteousness, Brian Vickers says on page 24:
There is considerable debate over Luther's teaching on imputation, or whether he held to anything like the later Reformed and Lutheran understanding of the doctrine. Though such a discussion runs the risk of asking anachronistic questions, it is essential that we consider Luther in the debate. While it is difficult to see in Luther a developed idea of both the negative and positive elements of imputation, as spelled out so precisely in later Lutheran and Reformed theology, the selections included here contain some of the necessary elements of the later formulation.

So even he admits there is "considerable debate" on whether Luther held to AO, and that "it is difficult to see" in Luther. That's not the sound of a well articulated view one way or the other. On page 26, he quotes Luther's Commentary on Psalm 32:1-2 and shows Luther saw "imputing as righteousness" to mean the same thing as God forgiving sin. This is essentially the clincher for me when it comes to Calvin's thoughts on the matter, for Calvin makes basically the same argument with Romans 4:6-8.

Chris H said...

Hi Nick,

First, it is incredibly anachronistic to expect to find in Calvin (or Luther) a full fledged doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. None will deny that many aspects of Reformed theology that were developed and clarified from Calvin's (and the other 1st and 2nd generation Reformers, men like Vermigli, Bucer, Bullinger, etc. , who were just as influential in the development of Reformed doctrine) but not found but in nascent form in Calvin. Covenant theology would be another good example of that. As such, it's silly to expect to find expositions of this doctrine in his treatments of the various proof texts of active obedience. It's like expecting to find Chalcedonian Trinitarianism taught when 2nd and 3rd century church fathers commented on Trinitarian texts. It is interesting that you speak with far more certainty and fervor than do the handful of actual historians who would tend to agree with you that Calvin does not speak of the imputation of Christ's active obedience.

The fact of the matter is that the debate over the issue and the distinction between passive and active obedience postdate Calvin. Really, the vast majority of your arguments on your blog reduce to an argument from silence, and that silence being one we should expect given the issue wasn't even on Calvin's radar!

In any case, I'm not particularly interested in debating this, especially with a Romanist blogger for whom I can't even fathom what the reason for caring about the issue should be. I'm not a professional historian and Calvin isn't the measure of Reformed theology, he was a great exegete and theologian but he was a fallible man like all others (saving Christ and His witness in the inspired writings of Scriptures). I believe Calvin would, being transported to a later time and into the debate, most likely affirm the imputation of active obedience because I believe he affirmed many of the underlying assumptions of the doctrine, but if he wouldn't have it bothers me little for my only rule of faith and life is the Scriptures. The issue is debated within Reformed circles itself, and many have claimed (I think erroneously, but the opinion is out there) that the Reformed confessions themselves do not teach the matter. Zacharias Ursinus, the author of the Heidelberg Catechism did not hold to the imputation of Christ's active obedience, though there is some evidence that he changed his mind later in life.

Nick said...

Hi Chris,

I'm not expecting Calvin to have a "full fledged doctrine" of imputation in place, but the essentials should be there. Otherwise, what's the point of Scripture "clearly" showing the more accurate way contrary to Rome?

To say those doctrines (e.g. Active Obedience, Covenant of Works) don't have to be found in Calvin is to trivialize them. Either they are essential or they are not. Calvin was pretty systematic, so when his Gospel does not require Christ's Active Obedience, that should say something. When he can systematically formulate an ordo salutis and salvation history and "forgets" to mention Covenant of Works or Active Obedience, that's more than an oversight.

In his mind, Justification was the forgiveness of sins. Period. He was defending Justification against Papist heresy, so he didn't have room to fidget and be unclear. And the clincher here is that he based this conclusion/formulation on pretty solid exegesis of key Scriptural texts, notably Romans 4:6-8. Sections of the Institutes like 3:11 are dedicated to spelling out justification's meaning carefully and consistently. He drew on many of the popular texts like 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 4, etc, and planted them solidly in the 'forgiveness of sins' category. So when I say Active Obedience wasn't on Calvin's radar, I don't mean he simply had not put 2 and 2 together, rather I mean that Calvin literally went up and down all the important chapters of Scripture drawing proofs and formulating and NEVER saw anything in the pages of Scripture leading him to think of Active Obedience.

By definition then, Calvin's Gospel, that is the work Christ did for our salvation, was 'another Gospel' compared to later Reformed teaching.