Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Word From John Calvin On This Issue

Seeing as the issue of me calling the Pope a/the Anti-Christ has caused quite the consternation for some folks I thought I would let John Calvin have a word. I also commend the whole of Book IV, Chapters 2, 18, and 19 concerning this topic.

Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin


Daniel and Paul foretold that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4); we regard the Roman Pontiff as the leader and standard-bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom. By placing his seat in the temple of God, it is intimated that his kingdom would not be such as to destroy the name either of Christ or of his Church. Hence, then, it is obvious that we do not at all deny that churches remain under his tyranny; churches, however, which by sacrilegious impiety he has profaned, by cruel domination has oppressed, by evil and deadly doctrines like poisoned potions has corrupted and almost slain; churches where Christ lies half-buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety is put to flight, and the worship of God almost abolished; where, in short, all things are in such disorder as to present the appearance of Babylon rather than the holy city of God. In one word, I call them churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain—symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy.


1. By these and similar inventions, Satan has attempted to adulterate and envelop the sacred Supper of Christ as with thick darkness, that its purity might not be preserved in the Church. But the head of this horrid abomination was, when he raised a sign by which it was not only obscured and perverted, but altogether obliterated and abolished, vanished away and disappeared from the memory of man—namely, when, with most pestilential error, he blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins. I say nothing as to the way in which the sounder Schoolmen at first received this dogma. leave them with their puzzling subtleties, which, however they may be defended by cavilling, are to be repudiated by all good men, because, all they do is to envelop the brightness of the Supper in great darkness. Bidding adieu to them, therefore, let my readers understand that I am here combating that opinion with which the Roman Antichrist and his prophets have imbued the whole world— viz. that the mass is a work by which the priest who offers Christ, and the others who in the oblation receive him, gain merit with God, or that it is an expiatory victim by which they regain the favour of God. And this is not merely the common opinion of the vulgar, but the very act has been so arranged as to be a kind of propitiation, by which satisfaction is made to God for the living and the dead. This is also expressed by the words employed, and the same thing may be inferred from daily practice. I am aware how deeply this plague has struck its roots; under what a semblance of good it conceals its true character, bearing the name of Christ before it, and making many believe that under the single name of Mass is comprehended the whole sum of faith. But when it shall have been most clearly proved by the word of God, that this mass, however glossed and splendid, offers the greatest insult to Christ, suppresses and buries his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which it was designed to convey, enervates and dissipates the sacrament, by which the remembrance of his death was retained, will its roots be so deep that this most powerful axe, the word of God, will not cut it down and destroy it? Will any semblance be so specious that this light will not expose the lurking evil?

Update: Found a couple more good readings on the subject by others.

Francis Turretin, "7th Disputation: On Whether it Can be Proven that the Pope of the Rome is the Anti-Christ"

William Whitaker, "The Roman Pontiff is the Anti-Christ Whose Presence Scripture Prophesied"


J.R. Polk said...


The following link may interest you with regard to your latest post. You will find there many good quotes concerning antichrist.

dad said...

But then this Pope isn't the 16th century Pope either.

J.R. Polk said...

The idea behind the Historicist point of view is that the "papacy" is antichrist. So, this would apply to any man who happens to hold the office -- at any time in history.

J.R. Polk said...

. . . I should add that some did hold the view that particular popes were antichrist.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

As Mr. Polk said the "office" is more the focus of the writers I cite and the WCF. Also I think we are in danger of creating an idol in "life politics". We truly do not understand how offensive the Roman Catholic soteriological system is to God.

Red_Cleric said...

Thinking about this I am reminded of Dr. Eldon Ladd at Fuller telling as that anyone who set themselves up over and against God's anointed was 'anti'-Christ.

As much as I appreciate my Reformed heritage Calvin was a victim of his history. Scripture seems to make it clear that the abomination would take place is the temple. Believing, as I do, that Daniel was looking forward to the future, this did happen and led to a Jewish revolt.


AAFairmount said...

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church's version of the WCF has modified the statment:
VI. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ;(n) nor can mere man in any sense be the head thereof.
n Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22.
The RPCNA Testimony comments thusly:
18. Many antichrists will be present in the world throughout history. Prior to Christ’s coming the final “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He will be destroyed by Christ.
1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:8.

While this is not an outright rejection of WCF XXV:6 it is a significant modification away from an historicist reading of "antichrist" to an amillennial approach to the topic.

This Historicist approach was adopted by Luther in his book on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and was common among the reformers and the Second Reformation thinkers in Great Britian.

I'm an orthodox Preterist (partial) and a pessimistic Postmillenialist, so I agree that it is good to modify this section of the Confession, or at least to qualify it. There have been and are many antichrists. IF there is one Biggie, it may have been the high priest in the time of the destruction of the Temple (AD 70) or someone else who set himself up to be worshipped along the lines of Antiochus Epiphanies.
I think the Papacy has certainly served in the role of Anti Christ at various points in history. But, I doubt we can make the Historicist school of eschatology work today. It does not fit with the best hermeneutics, in my view. But it is an honorable position.

I think in debates with Roman Catholics it is more useful to focus on the fallacies of their claims for papal supremacy. Certainly we Presbyterians are not immune from doing similar things with our Judicial Commissions and Synods and so on. While we don't go to the extreme of making the kinds of claims that Rome makes for her pontiff, we can replace scripture with the best of them when it suits us!

Anonymous said...


I totally agree with your exegesis. I knew there was a reason we get along so well! ;)

Rest of the gang,

I agree with Dad, we should take into account the current RC's renunciation of violence and reforms.

Not that we endorse their errors, certainly. I teach against their distortions almost constantly. The teachings of the Pope do constant damage to the souls of his hearers when he teaches that sacraments are salvific and that the RC church speaks for God no matter what in the Bible contradicts their position.

Hey, kinda like the revisionist progressive agenda in the mainlines!

Tim said...

Yes, I agree with AAFairmount's statements. That is very close to where I am on the matter. The mention of the historical eschatological school is also very important in the matter.

Thanks for posting these quotes and links, Benjamin. You have done a great service in calling our attention to this.

will said...

Alan - Could you clarify the specific incident to which you refer? I have heard it said of Antiochus - but Jesus directly references the passage in Daniel as a future at that time.

Red_Cleric said...

There is no reason it could be both. "a virgin [young woman] shall bear a child" was true of Hezekiah? as well as Jesus.

I just preached on 1 Peter 3 about how we are to live among sisters and brothers as well as the world. IMBO I get a nasty suspicion that when we hold to some views which cast dispersion on those who name Christ as Lord we run a risk I'd rather not take.

Has a Pope been an anti-Christ? Sure as have some reformed pastors, Anabaptists, cult leaders and the like. Is the Pope, as a leader of one branch/flavor of the Body of Christ the ANTI-Christ. I'd probably err on the side of saying no.

I'm NOT trying to pull a Rodney King theology that asks, "why can't we all just get along". I'm thinking more along the lines of being critical in our thinking on a case by case basis.

I had a Nazarene pastor friend who was certain that every catholic was destined for hell. There was no way , in his theology, for any of them to be saved. I asked him what catholics is he talking about. Because in Latin America you had a great liberation theology coming out. In the US you had catholic women who took and even served the elements at morning mass after they took their birth control pills and in Africa you had priests who were married because that was part of manhood.

I have a sense that Calvin was very clear and positive in his evaluation of the Roman church when he wrote however I do not believe this holds true today anymore than our PCUSA pronouncements of orthodox statements rule our behavior or, at times, even our intent.

I appreciate the discussion and this is truly and simply my opinion and sense of God in this issue.

will said...

Alan - I misunderstood your original post. Multiple fulfillments of prophecy are both possible and affirmed in certain passages. I was under the impression you were saying this already had happened at the time of Antiochus, and that was that. But Jesus spoke of it as an event that had not yet occurred (again - more than one item might have been in view). Sorry for the confusion.

I concur to a large degree with your assessment. When "the" is used singularly, it contains an implication that I don't think is justifiable. It is, IMO, precipitous to make that statement.